Over the course of a long-term relationship, you will need to make many Big Choices as a couple. Serious, life-altering decisions such as, “Should we move across the country so I can take that job?” and “Should we get married?” and “Are we ready to have kids?” and “How should we tackle this unexpected financial crisis?”
These big choices are undeniably important; but when it comes to the overall health of your relationship, I would argue that the small choices we make day-to-day matter so much more.
These small choices add up. They come to define our connections and the lives we share. For that reason, it’s worth taking them seriously.
Here are 6 choices you can make every day to improve your relationship:
1. Choose to be present.
The other day my boyfriend was excitedly telling me about a new dessert recipe he was going to try out — and I was playing on my phone, not listening at all, grunting “uh-huh” and being about as attentive as a slovenly sitcom husband.
I do this more frequently than I care to admit, and I’m trying to be better about it. Because guess what? I would never, ever treat a friend like that. It’s disrespectful, dismissive, and straight-up rude to ignore someone when they’re talking to you — especially about a topic that excites them.
The level of comfort we have with our primary partners can easily translate into taking them for granted. Choose to not let this happen. Choose to make your time together meaningful. Choose to put down the damn phone when they’re trying to talk to you.
You don’t have to spend every second at home staring deeply into each other’s eyes, but when you are engaging with your partner, choose to be fully engaged.
2. Choose self-care.
One of the best ways to ensure you’re able to be fully present and loving as a partner is to take great care of yourself as an individual. Do what you need to do to feel happy and whole and fulfilled.
That might mean having 30 minutes of alone time after work every day. It might mean never missing your favorite Zumba class. It might mean getting weekly pedicures or cooking healthy dinners from scratch or setting aside time for lengthy phone chats with your best friend.
Whatever self-care looks like for you, prioritize it without apology. Your relationship will reap the benefits.
3. Choose to be spontaneous.
Don’t want your relationship to stagnate? Then make spontaneity a priority.
The scope of your spontaneous activities doesn’t matter as much as the frequency. An unplanned walk to the fro-yo shop down the street or a random living room dance party can be just as refreshing and exciting as a surprise trip to Paris (without any credit card debt or PTO required).
Just make an effort to imbue your relationship with little unexpected moments, as often as you can.
4. Choose to take the high road (at least half the time).
Let’s say your partner is in an awful mood. They’re grouchy and irritable and making snide little remarks that are clearly designed to pull you down into their mucky swamp of bad vibes. Let’s say you were feeling fine before being confronted with their shitty mood.
You could let them suck you in, and you could get mad at them for being grumpy, and you could let it devolve into a fight.
Or! You could take the high road. You could acknowledge that their mood doesn’t have to be yours. You could kindly and respectfully tell them you’re sorry they’re having a bad day, ask if there’s anything you can do to make it better — and if not, you can give them some space to stew.
Don’t take the bait. Don’t take it personally. Just know that we all have moments of negativity and yuckiness and the next time you’re down in the muck, your partner will return the favor by taking the high road and not holding it against you.
5. Choose to say “Thank you.”
It’s weirdly easy to treat your long-term relationship like a customer service transaction: If you have a good experience, you won’t say anything — but if you have a bad experience, you’ll complain and stew and call the manager and write an aggro Yelp review. My point is we need to be mindful about appreciating our partners and verbalizing the good stuff.
If they make dinner or do the dishes, say thank you. If you can’t imagine how you would have handled that awkward work party without them, let them know. Send them a random text telling them exactly why you feel lucky to be with them.
Don’t skimp on the gratitude, the positive reinforcement, the “thank yous.” That stuff matters.
6. Choose honesty, even when it’s uncomfortable.
As important as it is to communicate about the good stuff, you’ve gotta be real about the not-so-good stuff too. When you’re with someone for a long time, resentments and unsaid words can easily build up and cause major problems down the road. Do yourself and your relationship a favor and be honest about things that are bothering you.
If you’re having a hard time letting go of something your partner said last week, bring it up and ask for clarification. If you’re feeling stagnant and unhappy — in your own life and/or in your relationship — be brave enough to own that feeling and talk it out with your partner.
Be honest. Be real. It might be tough in the moment, but it is so worth it down the road.