Studies show that being satisfied with your romantic relationship is one of the best predictors of happiness – even more important than education, income, or having a high-status job. Resolve to make 2013 your happiest year yet with these bond-strengthening pledges. By Holly Corbett, REDBOOK.
1. Cultivate your creativity
It’s no secret that creativity is sexy: Think about how artistic types such as musicians, actors, and writers seem to ooze sex appeal. “Studies find that creativity is powerful in attracting a mate, but we often let our passions and interests fall along the wayside once we’re married,” says Glenn Geher, Ph.D., co-author of the new book Mating Intelligence Unleashed: The Role of the Mind in Sex, Dating, and Love. This year, resolve to keep pursuing your own passions (think: picking up the guitar again or taking painting lessons) and watch that joyful feeling transfer over into other areas of your life.
2. Do one kind thing a day
“If you go an entire week without doing anything that is explicitly kind for your partner, it’s a signal that you’re not investing resources and time into the other person,” says Dr. Geher. “We evolved as a pair-bonding species, meaning the more we bestow one another with sweet nothings, the more attractive we are.” And it doesn’t have to be big stuff. Next time you’re out to dinner with a friend, why not bring home dessert for your husband? Or, pay him a compliment about his own rugged good looks while watching the latest Bourne thriller. The littlest random acts of kindness can go a long way.
3. Recognize your blind spots
It’s all too easy to assume that just because you love each other it should always be easy, but no relationship is guaranteed. We all thought Amy Poehler and Will Arnett were rock-solid, but their divorce showed us that we can’t take our partners for granted. The lesson here: There will be times where the plates begin to shift in your relationship’s most terra firma (your “rock of a husband” declares he wants to quit his job to pursue his Into the Wild dream, for example). Rather than fight change, realize it’s just time to come up with some new ways to come together.
4. Keep it classy
Kate Middleton and Prince William are the ultimate example of relationship class. From cute-but-not-crude public displays of affection to the way the Prince William protectively managed the media onslaught when Kate was hospitalized for severe morning sickness, their mutual respect for each other exudes quiet togetherness. While you may be tempted to spill intimate secrets about your husband’s sex habits over a bottle of wine with the girls or reprimand him for not helping with the holiday duties in front of your in-laws, these little betrayals ultimately diminish your relationship. Safeguarding your marriage means knowing when to keep the intimate details mum.
5. Don’t underestimate the power of laughter
“Humor seems to be correlated with general intelligence,” says Dr. Geher. “Funny people tend to be smart, and smart people tend to be good mates because they can solve problems.” If you’ve entered a period of bickering, or worse, a resentment-filled stalemate, admitting your foibles with some lighthearted self-deprecation can help you see one another as only human again – which will bring back that “you really get me” connectedness we all crave.
6. Give your partner props
We could learn a lot about love from watching the President and the First Lady: Barack openly acknowledged that he couldn’t have won the election without Michelle, and the picture he tweeted of them kissing on his victory day went absurdly viral. Whether you scored a big promotion or finally lost those stubborn last 10 pounds, don’t forget to share your successes with your partner by acknowledging how you couldn’t have done it without him. Heap on a wholehearted “thank you, honey” when he helps you brainstorm a major proposal, or for watching the kids on Saturday mornings when the only hardcore spin class is happening.
7. Be a Sofia Vergara every so often
Yoga pants and an oversized tee may have become standard weekend-wear after 10 years of marriage, but dressing up for your partner like you did when you were dating is a non-verbal – and just plain fun – way to show him that his opinion still very much matters to you. “You don’t have to have a South Beach body, but wearing your fancy stuff now and then reignites the courtship response, in which outcomes aren’t necessarily a given – [ed note: i.e. he’s not assured booty.] That in of itself is exciting,” says Dr. Geher.
8. Let your true self shine
If you’re married or in a long-term relationship, your partner probably loves your quirks. So make like Mad Men’s Megan Draper, who did something authentic to her flirty personality by singing a sultry version of the French song, “Zou Bisou Bisou,” at Don’s surprise 40th birthday party – which Don definitely dug. This year, try to stop worrying about what other people think and play up, rather than deny, your idiosyncrasies for you partner. After all, they’re likely the reason he fell for you in the first place. And, interestingly, the vulnerability you show by letting your freak flag fly is actually what turns men on most.
9. Share your love on social media
We’re not talking about those overly-gushy TMI, overly-gushy updates, but publicly declaring the sweet little things he does signals to the world (and to him) that you’re proud he’s your guy. A great example: Good Charlotte rocker Joel Madden posted this note on Tumblr about his recent anniversary with Nicole Richie: “We just spent a few days off the grid celebrating our second wedding anniversary. Sometimes I keep it to myself and sometimes I can’t help myself and I gotta tell the whole world how much I love her. This is one of those times.”
10. Accept that relationships have phases, too
Marriages have a certain rhythm, and life changes like a new job or baby may mean some major adjustments are needed. Rather than let things brew until one of you has a meltdown, it’s important to create space to discuss how both of your feelings and needs may have shifted (and remember, men have these little things called feelings, too). Take Hilary Duff’s honesty about how she and husband Mike Comrie have had to adjust their sex lives post-baby. She recently said in an interview, “It’s definitely different. I’m so exhausted at the end of each day, so I’m like, ‘Can this not happen at night when I’m exhausted? You find different times to do it.”
11. See sacrifices as “giving permission”
Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck take turns picking up the kids and one stays home so the other one can do what they love – make movies. Putting your partner’s best interests above your own needs at times and thinking like a team member helps you achieve your biggest goal – keeping your relationship strong and satisfying for both people. It’s normal to feel resentful when you, say, leave a home you love to relocate for your husband’s new job, or have to rise early to take the kids to the bus every day. But making these sacrifices with an open heart will make your partner feel grateful and loved – and more likely to “be the bigger person” the next time you need it.
12. Put sex on your priority list
“Men often complain about not getting enough sex after a few years of being in the relationship, while women may feel too exhausted to be in the mood,” says Dr. Geher. Once you understand that this is actually a pretty typical pattern in early married life, you can move from feeling resentful togetting creative. If that mental shift isn’t occurring on its own, brainstorm a list of all the stuff that’s making you too stressed to get it on, and ask him for help tackling it. For example, if a messy house has got you in constant gripe-mode, maybe he’ll agree to purchasing a few housekeeping Groupons. You’ll both feel more satisfied – sexually and emotionally – when you share your feelings and come up with workable solutions together.
13. Show little expressions of love
Both sexes crave displays of love – and that need never goes away. “It is part of our evolutionary psychology,” says Dr. Geher. “A recent study asked thousands of college students across five continents what they want in a mate, and they all said they wanted someone they are in love with,” he said. Complaining and nagging are common responses to not getting enough; a better one is to give more – even when it’s done through gritted teeth. It may feel forced at first, but love has a tremendous softening and expanding effect – the more you give, the more it tends to show up all around you. And when that fails, cue up a little Barry White – that’ll put a smile on anyone’s face.