CHECK IN WITH EACH OTHER
Summer was a whirlwind of parties, rosé and travel, and next month marks the start of the most festive (read: stressful) time of the year. Use this current period of relative downtime as an opportunity to stop and reflect on your relationship. “Regardless of how long intimate partners have been together, they can always benefit by talking over how they currently feel about each other and their relationship,” says clinical psychologist and marriage counselor Dr. Randi Gunther in Psychology Today. “Setting aside time to do a regular check-in can forestall potential problems and create proactive solutions.” There are many different ways to evaluate how you’re doing as a couple (Dr. Gunther has a seven-part questionnaire that she recommends), but here’s one idea: Set a timer for 30 minutes, remove all distractions and sit down with each other to do nothing but talk. Be honest about how you think things are going, where you’d like to go in the future and any issues you’re having. Discuss what steps you’d like to take before your next check in and put a date in the diary to do it again next month. Then, reward yourselves with a fun activity afterward. (Home baked brownies, anyone?)
STAY IN TOUCH…LITERALLY
Maybe you’ve stopped holding hands when you walk down the street. Or perhaps the perfunctory peck on the cheek when you come home from work is about as romantic as shopping for bathroom caulk at Home Depot. Cooler temperatures and darker evenings are an excellent excuse to clock in some more cuddle time, but research shows that even non-sexual touching can have a significant positive effect on your relationship. A study published in the Journal of Personal and Social Relationships found that small acts of physical affection (regardless of where they lead) “were associated with better relationship outcomes, including more relationship satisfaction, better couple communication, and less couple conflict.” Even a pat on the back or caressing your partner’s arm increases the release of oxytocin (a hormone associated with bonding and trust). But if you want a more structured exercise, try something called “sensate focus.” Clinical psychologist Dr. Gary Brown explains how: “Find some time with your partner and experiment touching them. Ask them to tell you what feels good in terms of where you touch them as well as how much pressure they like or do not like. Spend about five to ten minutes doing this exercise. Then switch roles. Now you take the turn of the receiver and give feedback to your partner.”
WATCH MOVIES TOGETHER
We know—you do this one, like, every Friday night already. But here’s how to make your movie night work for your relationship. In a study published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, researchers asked couples to watch movies together and then talk for 30 minutes about the characters’ romantic relationships. The result? Divorce rates shrank by half. That’s because talking about the characters’ on-screen conflict provided a safe environment for couples to think about their own relationships. “Watching a movie together and having a discussion, that’s not so scary,” explains study co-author Ronald Rogge. “It’s less pathologizing, less stigmatizing.” Cue Four Weddings and a Funeral on the ’Flix tonight.