These simple strategies take just a few minutes, but the relationship rewards are real.
There's no way around it: A happy relationship takes hard work. And in his new book The All-or-Nothing Marriage ($28, amazon.com), psychologist Eli Finkel, PhD, tells you what you can do to make yours flourish. But if you don't have the time (or energy) to do any heavy lifting right now, there are a few shortcuts that can help improve things instantly. Finkel, who has studied thousands of couples, calls these quick fixes "lovehacks." They take little time, and don't require any cooperation from your S.O.; yet they can make a big difference. "Lovehacking involves a deliberate effort to see the beautiful underneath the anger and disappointment and boredom," Finkel writes in the book, "to look with (appreciative) new eyes." Here are five of his tips to try:
Rethink the blame game
When your partner (inevitably) slips up, there are multiple ways you can think about it, says Finkel. Let’s say he forgot about dinner plans. Considering his mistake a sign of his inherent selfishness—or wrongfully assuming he did it to spite you—is likely to lead to unnecessary conflict and antagonism. Instead, consider all the possible explanations for the mistake: Maybe he forgot because he's been particularly busy at work, or because he's stressed about his father's illness.
As long as you’re convinced your partner is a good person, Finkel suggests adopting this if/then strategy: “If I start feeling frustrated or angry about something my spouse did (or didn’t do), then I will take a few seconds to consider other explanations for his or her behavior.”
Stop brushing off praise
People who struggle with low self-esteem tend to have trouble believing that their partner truly loves them—and that insecurity can keep them from appreciating compliments from their S.O. Luckily, there’s a love hack for that, says Finkel.
One 2008 study asked folks with low self-esteem to describe a compliment they received from their partner in three different ways. One group was asked to describe the event. A second group was asked to relay exactly what their partner said, plus any details about the event (like the time or place). A third group was asked to think more broadly about the praise: They were prompted to explain what their partner admired about them, how it made them feel, and what it meant for their relationship.
Two weeks later, people in the first two groups reported feeling less secure in their relationships compared to people in the third group, who reported feeling more assured of their bond.
Finkel's takeaway: Before you dismiss a compliment, take a second to appreciate why your spouse said it, and what the comment reflects about your relationship.
Change how you see conflict
Just because you run into challenges doesn’t mean you and your partner aren’t "meant to be." Instead of viewing rough patches as signs your marriage is destined to fail, embrace those times as opportunities to improve your relationship.
Finkel explains that people who have strong "destiny beliefs" are more likely to give up on their relationship, rather than try to work things out. Meanwhile, people who have strong "growth beliefs" see conflict as a chance to grow together.
With the right attitude, arguing can actually bring you closer.
Cultivate gratitude, then express it
Research shows that practicing gratitude delivers plenty of health benefits, from better sleep to more motivation to exercise. But feeling grateful can also do wonders for your romantic relationship. A 2011 study published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences found that the more partners experience and express gratitude for their spouse, the more satisfied they feel with their marriage. Plus, “people who experience elevated levels of gratitude also experience stronger relationship commitment and are less likely to break up,” writes Finkel. So go ahead and tell your wife how much you appreciate all that she does for you; or the next time she does something sweet, leave her a thank you note. These simple gestures can go a long way.
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Get happy for each other
The next time you get good news, celebrate with your boo! Research suggests that sharing positive events not only builds trust, but also increases feelings of intimacy and satisfaction with the relationship. And both partners experience these perks, not just the bearer of the good news: “The positive effects emerge not only for the partner doing the disclosing, but also for the listener,” says Finkel. Good deal.