You meet that one special person. You fall in love. Everything feels special and intense and exciting and comfortable. You are the center of their world and they, yours.
After being together for a while, life gets busy. Jobs, kids, life gets in the way. You don’t have time to do the fun things that brought you together. There is not as much time to talk or gaze lovingly into each other’s eyes. Or maybe you don’t make it a priority anymore.
When life distracts you from one another, your relationship begins a cycle of closeness and disconnection. Sometimes you have time to invest in the relationship. At other points, you feel more like ships passing in the night. In fact, your relationship has to run in the background of your life.
When you are too busy for one another, your relationship goes into coasting mode. It runs on the goodwill you’ve built up in your relationship bank and your compassion for one another. If you don’t have much built up, you might wonder if the love has died.
When your relationship works at its best, you have time to focus on one another. During these times, one or both of you feel invested in making the relationship stronger. It’s a period of growth. One of the following may trigger reconnection:
- feeling distressed by the disconnection,
- recognizing a pattern or problem that is hurting one or both of you,
- reading or watching a story that makes you think about the state of your relationship,
- seeing another really happy (or unhappy) couple,
- or having one of those moments that reminds you of why you love them:
- locking eyes across a room,
- sharing a private joke,
- a kind gesture,
- a great orgasm, or
- a deep and meaningful conversation.
During these periods of growth, you work on the relationship to make it better. These periods can be fun, exhausting, frustrating, joyful, and/or scary.
The rest of the time, all couples put their relationship into a neutral position. That means, you focus on other areas of your lives (kids, jobs, extended families, health, hobbies). There is an endless list of things that can pull your attention away from your partner. And your relationship should be able to handle being put in neutral. We can’t and shouldn’t focus on our relationships to the exclusion of everything else.
Your relationship habits determine how well you weather times of relationship inattention. A healthy relationship habit is a connecting interaction built into your lives that you do automatically. Not thoughtlessly or robotically. You still have to show up for that interaction.
The benefit of having healthy relationship habits is that you won’t have to work so hard to connect. Habits build the opportunity to connect into the relationship. You don’t have to come up with new ways to connect with your partner.
For healthy relationship habits to make a difference, you need to show up with intention, emotion, and energy. The beauty of healthy relationship habits is that you don’t have to negotiate the time or attention.
Examples of Healthy Relationship Habits
- Every morning you kiss each other before leaving for the day. The habit is there. You each expect that interaction to happen. Each day, you make the choice whether to give one another a peck or a passionate kiss. You bring the energy each day but the space is there. It’s already been negotiated and scheduled.
- Every Friday is date night. You have a standing arrangement with childcare. If childcare falls through, you have a backup plan to spend two hours together after putting the kids to bed. You don’t spend time and energy carving time out of the schedule. You still have to show up with whatever energy you have that particular day, but the habit is there. Each week, you choose an activity that you’ll both enjoy. Perhaps you go to a movie, talk over coffee, take a class, or veg out in front of the TV. Since there are a lot of opportunities (52 a year!!!), dates can trade off being romantic, fun, chill, or with friends.
- Every day you text your partner when you get in your car after work. Many days, it is a quick heads up so they can expect your arrival. On days when you have more energy, you use that time to say “thank you,” share a quick antidote or frustration, or pass important information. If you have a lot of energy, you might find a meme or joke that speaks to them.
How to have a Healthy Relationship with Your Partner
The best relationship habits are ones you both enjoy and are easy to fit into your schedule. They don’t have to be exciting, long, or complicated. They do need to be thoughtful and meaningful to the two of you.
The biggest objection is that it will become boring. It’s true; relationship habits that you repeat everyday without variation become stale. You are still responsible for showing up and being intentional with your partner. You have to bring some energy and intention to the interaction. Otherwise, you’re right, it will become stale.
It’s easy to fall into unhealthy habits in your relationship. Besides the daily responsibilities, social media, TV, and video games, are distractions. Over time, inattention takes a toll. Being complacent and taking one another for granted leads to disconnection, disappointment, loneliness, and resentment. It also makes it harder to solve problems in the relationship.
Healthy relationship habits will guard your relationship against Roommate Syndrome. That’s when the relationship feels more like friends living together than lovers. Good relationship habits give you the space to meaningfully connect so you don’t feel like you’re in a rut.
All couples coast in the relationship sometimes. How you coast makes all the difference. When you have healthy relationship habits, you strengthen the relationship even when you are not thinking about it. You show up at the right times. Choose habits that work best for you and that have the most value to your partner. Having good habits will help you stay connected even when you would be prone to drifting apart.
Strong relationships need to be able to weather times of growth and times when they are on the back burner. Good relationship habits will continue building the relationship, even when you are busy doing other things.