If we aren’t used to discussing emotions and needs in relationships, it may feel incredibly uncomfortable. But, when we’re open to discussion, we can cultivate healthier connections with ourselves and others. While date nights and physical affection are fun ways to feel connected, they may not fortify a relationships’ foundation. Below are five simple hacks to strengthen relationships from the inside out.
- Create a Relationship Map
Often, relationships don’t work out because the people involved don’t express their goals or values. Differing expectations may cause unexpected friction. Even if we are on the same page, relationships may end. That’s fine, and it doesn’t make a relationship a “failure”. A successful relationship is one in which people make consistent effort and grow emotionally.
A relationship map is a guide to keep our consistent efforts on track. E.g., if we value intimacy, we can talk about how often we need it, and in which way. Do we like frequent hugs? Do we prefer to avoid public displays of affection? Etc. Another example is family values. Do we hang out with our parents often? Do we plan to take our parents in during their older age? Do want children, or not? Discuss expectations in detail. We can even write them down and update them when necessary.
- Make a Relationship Bucket List
We’re all likely familiar with the skydiving, bungee jumping, zip-lining, do-before-we-die type of bucket list. Similarly, we can apply the concept of an ultimate goals list to our relationships. Our bucket list doesn’t have to entice the modern-day adrenaline junky, but it can if that’s what suits. We can create lists of things we want to do with our partner, like camping, travelling, or owning a home. Doing this gives us something to strive for; it keeps things interesting. It’s important to consider what achieving each goal would mean, and how we intend to reach them.
- Make a Strengths List
It can be easy to become more annoyed than impressed by a partner as time passes. In the beginning, we tend to notice all the positives about a person. People often put their best face forward in the early days. With time, we begin to see people’s complex layers, some of which may be less than desirable. Yet, we all have inherent strengths; it’s beneficial to remind ourselves of our partner’s strong suits. We can make a list of the strengths we admire about them. Think about what they’re good at, how they contribute to the relationship, how they interact with others, etc. Some examples are:
- Great driver
- Amazing friend
- Phenomenal cook
- Excellent listener
We can share the list with our partner to let them know how much we value them.
- Build a Positivity Portfolio
To revel in the upside of our relationships, we can compile a positivity portfolio. This is a collection of memories, items, pictures, etc. that highlight the pros of our relationships. We can build this with our partner and include positive past memorabilia and stories. We can also include things that emphasize what’s going well in the present. Including future-oriented items is also great for building a positive relationship outlook. E.g., we can include past love letters and poems, memories from our most recent anniversary, pictures of an upcoming travel destination, descriptions of our dream life together, etc.
- Keep an Emotions Journal
All emotions, whether we view them as positive or negative, can teach us about ourselves. In relationships, negative emotions can help us understand what parts of the union need extra care. If we try to suppress uncomfortable emotions, our relationship will suffer. At the very least, it will not be as strong as it could be. We should make efforts to notice our emotions in relation to our partner. Start by keeping a week-long journal about the feelings that arise regarding our relationship. For positive feelings, we can write down the setting and context it occurred in. For negative emotions, identify the feeling and what triggered it. What meaning do we associate with it? How and what can we learn from it? How can we turn it into a constructive conversation for growth? In relationships (and life), taking note of our feelings helps us celebrate wins, and grow from challenges. It furthers our appreciation for our partner; acknowledging our partner’s positive attributes helps them feel valued. Shared goals allow us to look to the future with optimism and anticipation. They promote relationship investment because all parties are on the same page. So, set relationship goals, recognize the positives, and emote, emote, emote!