Even if money is tight, don’t short-change your relationship. Relationship expert Kate Taylor shares how to improve your relationship without breaking the bank
Get deep and meaningful
Chatting to your partner is an easy—and free!—way to feel connected. But if you want to feel happier, you need to leave the shallow-end of conversations and venture into deep topics occasionally.
A study published in Psychological Science revealed that the happiest people make small talk about inconsequential topics (the weather, food, football) only ten per cent of the time. The rest of their conversations are centred around larger topics like politics, philosophy, who should win Bake Off, etc.
"Chatting to your partner is an easy—and free!—way to feel connected"
In contrast, unhappy people make small-talk 28 per cent of the time.
Are your daily chats with your partner always safe, light-hearted and small? Try asking some deeper questions and sparking a more meaningful debate. Not sure what to say? Try asking the 36 questions that make people fall in love.
Rumple your bedsheets
Another well-known way to increase your closeness and affection is to get close and affectionate, in bed. A study published in Psychological Science found that couples who had a healthy sex life were more likely to report higher levels of marital satisfaction than those who didn’t.
But you don’t have to rumple your sheets every night. Another study found that couples who had sex just once a week (every week) were the happiest.
Volunteering’s mental-health benefits are well known, but you might not realise that helping others can help your marriage too. A 2017 WalletHub survey found married couples who volunteered together were more likely to stay together.
How you help is up to you. You might try signing up for a Christmas soup kitchen, joining your local Rotary club, or asking for shifts at your local library, where you can flirt with each other over the returns desk. To find more opportunities, browse the Do It website together, or look at Gov.UK.
Step out of your comfort zone
Doing safe, cosy activities together doesn’t work. To strengthen your bond, you need to get your hearts pounding.
A 1993 study took 53 couples and divided them into three groups. One group had to spend 90 minutes a week doing an “exciting” activity together; another had to spend 90 minutes a week engaged in a “pleasant” activity, and the last group just had to go about their business as normal.
"To strengthen your bond, you need to get your hearts pounding"
At the end of the ten-week study, the couples who’d engaged in exciting activities together reported significantly higher levels of relationship satisfaction than the other two groups. Less predictably, couples who’d only engaged in “pleasant” pastimes were no happier than the couples who hadn’t done anything at all.
So, get some excitement into your lives! Jump out of a plane, remove the labels off all your canned foods, play truth or dare, tell your neighbours what you really think of their garden, watch a scary movie, catch a spider, cross the road when the green man is flashing…
Celebrate a small win
How much “emotional capital” have you built up?
Emotional capital is a term for all the positivity a couple has accrued in their relationship, like regular deposits into a bank account. Emotional capital creates a buffer against the many things that can harm a relationship, like grief, stress and health problems; couples with healthy amounts of emotional capital don’t get so affected by outside pressures.
One of the best ways to build up emotional capital is to celebrate something together, even if it’s tiny. Did your football team win? Celebrate! Did you remember to put the bins out on the right day? I think that calls for a toast.
Listen to “your song”
Having a “song” isn’t just sentimental—it’s actually an excellent way to reconnect with the younger, more in-love, versions of yourselves. A 2019 study found that couples who have “our song” have higher levels of intimacy than those who don’t.
Music is also an easy, fun way to reconnect with memories. The same study found that listening to “our song” cued positive emotions for the couples.
Train for a marathon
Sorry about this, but studies have reliably found that exercising with a partner hugely boosts your happiness and satisfaction in your relationship. (I’ve been searching for positive couch-potato research for years, but the data keeps eluding me.)
One way to increase the positivity even more is to incorporate the exercise into a challenge. Completing a shared challenge has been found to increase couples’ feelings of being “in love”.
So, train for a marathon, sign up for a tennis competition, complete Couch to 5K as a couple, or walk 100 miles for charity. You’ll thank me later.
Coordinating your actions with someone else’s actions is called (in psychological circles) “mimicry” and it’s one the fastest, most effective ways to build feelings of trust and affection.
"'Mimicry' is one the fastest, most effective ways to build feelings of trust and affection"
Did you ever play catch in the garden with a parent? Those coordinated, back-and-forth movements were building a connection between you that lasted long after the ball sailed over the fence. Dancing is another activity that uses mimicry, which might explain people’s Strictly obsession.
How could you coordinate your actions with your partner? You could walk at the same pace, exercise side-by-side or take an online (or in person) dance class.
Yes, you can turn the TV back on.
While vegging on the sofa in front of a box set isn’t quite as good for your relationship as the earlier things I’ve listed, it can have some benefits. Especially if you don’t have a large, shared group of friends.
One of the biggest support networks for relationships is all the people they have in common. If you don’t have many mutual friends, research has discovered that mutually loved books, TV shows and films can serve the same purpose. Discussing the characters together gives your brain a similar boost to talking about people you know in real life.
So, crank up the gogglebox and let the bonding commence.
You can read more advice from Kate on her website.
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