Using daily practices, such as gratitude and communication, you can build stronger bonds in your life.
How much do you value your close relationships? Do you fear your partner will reject you? Are you afraid to commit? How you answer these questions can give you valuable insights into yourself and the people closest to you.
Research shows you can create distance in an intimate relationship two ways: anxiety and avoidance. Too much attachment-related anxiety, and you may worry your partner doesn’t feel the same way about you or that he or she may leave. Too much attachment-related avoidance, and you may fail to make a commitment and drive people away. When you take the Close Relationships Questionnaire, you can measure your level of attachment. Being happy in our relationships is crucial to our subjective well-being and knowing where you are will show you where to go.
Thank You, My Love
A study from the University of Georgia found that couples who express gratitude for one another regularly often have healthier, happier relationships. Furthermore, gratitude has a counter effect when a couple is engaged in conflict, such as when they’re undergoing financial stress. Gratitude protects the quality of the marriage, leading to fewer thoughts about divorce. Feeling appreciated and valued puts the same kind of protective coating on the relationship. Allen Barton, Ph.D., postdoctoral research associate at UGA’s Center for Family Research, says a good way for couples to make sure they are expressing enough gratitude is to ask each other, “Do you feel valued and appreciated, and if not what can I do to change that?”
It's the Little Things
We’ve compiled some of our favorite ideas to strengthen and cultivate healthy, happy relationships in almost every aspect of our lives.
Journal with your spouse. Find a journal—anything will do, including a basic spiral notebook—and take a few minutes to write to each other. Remind your spouse why you love him or her, whether it’s generosity toward those in need or an unfailing ability to make you smile. Most of all, keep your writing positive and focused on each other.
Send a greeting card. Sending a text message or email is a quick, easy way to say hello to a friend or relative, but sending a physical greeting card shows thought, effort and love. Plus, your recipient can post your card on his or her refrigerator or desk as a daily reminder of you and your relationship.
Collect ticket stubs. Remember when you enjoyed the evening under the stars and listened to your favorite band play? Or when you saw that awful movie together? Keep the ticket stubs from wherever your life as a couple takes you, collect them in a glass jar and place it visibly in your home. When you add new tickets to your collection, take a couple of minutes to reminisce about the fun you’ve had together.
Plan the ultimate family fun day. Mark it on your calendars. Treat it as seriously as you would a work meeting or soccer practice and escape the commotion of life for a day of family fun. Get the entire family involved in the planning—surprise the kids with a short day trip; attend a local festival; or maybe even spend the day at home baking, watching movies or building a fort. Your family fun day doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg; it’s more about the entire family spending time together.
Advice from the Experts
How can we communicate more effectively with our loved ones?
“For more than four decades I have been privileged to share the five love languages with people around the world. Understanding this concept gives individuals the information needed to effectively express love. By nature, we do for our loved ones what we wish they would do for us. We assume they feel loved. When they eventually say to us, ‘I feel like you don’t love me,’ we are surprised. The problem was not our sincerity. The problem was we were not speaking their love language.”—Gary D. Chapman, Ph.D., author of The 5 Love Languages series
What are some of the relationship-building benefits of the family dinner?
“In today’s fast-paced, technology-steeped culture, having family dinner is the most doable way to hang out together; there are few other settings where the family gathers. …Family dinner provides a way to connect…a time to unwind, to check in, to laugh together, to tell stories. These benefits don’t depend on you making a gourmet meal, using organic ingredients or cooking from scratch. Food brings the family to the table, but it is the conversation and the connection that keeps the family at the table and provides the emotional benefits.”—Anne Fishel, Ph.D., author of Home for Dinner: Mixing Food, Fun, and Conversation for a Happier Family and Healthier Kids
What is the single most important thing we can do to improve our relationships with our children?
“Our relationships with our children improve the most when we work on our relationships with ourselves. When we find ways to be happy and calm and present, we are warmer and more responsive to our children, better listeners—and more consistent disciplinarians.”—Christine Carter, Ph.D., author of The Sweet Spot: How to Find Your Groove at Home and Work
How can we create long-lasting, happy relationships?
“Relationships thrive when there is an investment in an emotional piggy bank. Without a balance of positive feelings for each other, there is little to draw on during difficult times. The best way of allowing these positive feelings for each other to grow is to not deplete them. If you can have fewer negative emotions and reactions with each other in the first place, it can help preserve your positive resources.”—Daniel Tomasulo, Ph.D., MFA, MAPP, author of Confessions of a Former Child: A Therapist’s Memoir