When you begin a relationship, everything is new and exciting. It is a beautiful time full of discovery and new experiences.
You are learning about one another. You might be trying out new hobbies and pastimes that the other person enjoys. You might be going out together to new restaurants, movies, and other special events.
At that point, it is likely you associate your partner with happiness. Excitement. Fun. Enjoyment.
But over time, you settle in. You develop a routine. You go to the same places – or maybe just don’t go out much at all.
You get married, move in together, and maybe have kids. Now your time together may be primarily spent navigating day-to-day responsibilities: laundry, cooking, grocery shopping, changing diapers, getting ready for work, and paying the bills.
And with those responsibilities comes stress – from financial worries, finding a work-life balance, coping with parenthood, and the many other challenges of everyday life.
At this point in your relationship, you are more likely to associate your partner with routine. Responsibility. Stress.
And not surprisingly, that influences how you feel about your partner, too.
Change Your Automatic Associations You Have with Your Partner
A recent Florida State University study tested whether they could change the way couples felt about one another by changing their negative automatic associations. They paired the face of the participants’ partners with positive stimulus, such as puppies and the word “wonderful” in a series of experiments.
And it worked! Those participants’ happiness in their relationship increased as a result.
By now, you’re thinking, “Great! But I can’t conduct that experiment on myself at home.”
No, certainly not. But you can take active efforts to remind yourself of the positive things that relate to your partner.
Here are a few suggestions for how to do that:
Share appreciations daily.
Many of us spend a lot of time criticizing or correcting our problems. You may remind your partner to put clothes in the laundry basket every time you see them on the floor. But do you remember to share your appreciation for a cooked meal? Or because your partner took out the trash?
Make an active effort to look for and really notice the positive contributions your partner makes. And acknowledge them when you do.
Challenge yourself to call out at least one thing every day. (And pat yourself on the back if you do more!) Make sure you are looking at your partner when you do.
Put up photos of happy memories.
Your wedding. The birth of your first child. A relaxing vacation. Make sure your partner’s face is in the photo.
Leave the photos where you will see them every day. One on your fridge. A different one on your bedside table. Still another on your desk at work.
Relive positive memories instead of negative ones.
After a fight, it’s common to find yourself replaying what happened in your head. What you said, what your partner said.
If you catch yourself in the act, stop the mental video! Instead, close your ideas and relive a positive memory. Maybe a time where your partner was there for you. Some time they went above and beyond. Don’t just think about it – replay it in your mind’s eye.
Be adventurous with your date nights.
This doesn’t mean you have to fly to Italy on a private plan. Or go rock climbing and ziplining. It just means trying new things together. This could mean going to a new restaurant, seeing a film you normally wouldn’t, or attending a class.
Many of you reading this are already making excuses about why this isn’t possible. You don’t have the money. You don’t have child care.
I get it. It isn’t always easy. But you don’t need to leave your home to have an adventure together. Take a chance on something new on Netflix. Prepare an exotic meal together. Buy a unique board game.
It just means going out of your way to introduce novelty to your interactions with one another. Break out of your routine. Keep challenging one another to grow.
It takes effort – but it is well worth it to recover those wonderful positive associations from when you first got together.
Rooting for you!