If you want to have a happier and healthier relationship in 2020, you don’t necessarily need a major overhaul of your love life. Just setting a simple, well-defined goal or two can make a big difference over the year’s course — though you’ll probably start seeing benefits much sooner than that.
We asked therapists to reveal the little things couples can do on a regular basis to make their relationship that much better in the coming year.
1. Put limits on your phone use.
Designated screen time isn’t just for kids: Adults can benefit from setting some parameters, too. Indeed, one of the biggest complaints Roseville, California, therapist Kurt Smith hears from his clients is that their partners are constantly on their phones. This year, commit to unplugging for a set period of time each day, whether that’s before breakfast in the morning or an hour before bed at night.
“Make a joint resolution, not just an individual one, to set a time limit on social media and phone use when you’re together,” said Smith, who specializes in counseling men. “Challenge yourselves to make a list of fun, enjoyable alternative things you can do together instead of the isolating behavior being on our phones brings.”
2. Designate time each day to connect with your partner.
Just as you put doctor’s appointments and work meetings on your calendar, you should be just as intentional when it comes to making time for your partner. You can even use the 45-minute window you normally would have spent watching your Instagram stories to catch up and connect with your significant other IRL.
“Something as simple as trying out a new recipe or playing a board game can foster connectivity, improve communication skills and increase relationship satisfaction,” said Chicago-based therapist Anna Poss.
And sorry, sitting together on the couch binge-ing the latest season of “The Crown” doesn’t count. To make the most of this time, turn off distractions and tune into each other.
“Mindful time should prioritize bonding behaviors such as eye contact, touch and communication,” said Los Angeles psychologist and sex therapist Shannon Chavez. “Keep the conversation light by focusing on gratitudes, what has sparked joy in your day or things you are looking forward to in the week.”
3. Commit to doing something spontaneous together once a month.
For long-term couples, it’s all-too-easy to fall into the same ol’ humdrum routine. To counteract the monotony, Smith recommends thinking back to the fun, spontaneous things you did together in the early days of the relationship.
“My wife and I once jumped in the car at 10 p.m. and drove 90 minutes through the snow to Lake Tahoe,” Smith said. “We sat in a diner for a couple of hours and then drove back. Got up the next day and went to work.”
As your responsibilities grow (e.g. parenting, paying bills, moving up at work), it may be harder to pull off last-minute grand adventures. But committing to spicing things up in small ways can still help keep the spark alive. That might mean scoring concert tickets the night of the show or walking by a pottery studio and deciding to pop in for a class.
4. Make a weekly sex date with your partner.
When life gets busy, sex is often one of the first things to fall by the wayside. Scheduling sex may not sound all that sexy, but doing so ensures it will actually happen — even when you have a lot on your plates. Dedicating time for physical connection means reaping benefits like improved intimacy in the relationship, as well reduced anxiety and perhaps a stronger immune system, too.
“Let go of the goals around sex and set the intention of a time where you can give and receive pleasure with your partner,” Chavez said. “Making a regular sex date can take off the pressure around initiation and lower expectations around spontaneous sex.”
5. Schedule monthly money talks.
According to a 2014 Money Magazine survey, 70% of married couples argue about money — making it a more common source of conflict than other fraught topics like household chores or sex. Too often, couples will put off having these conversations for too long or they avoid discussing finances altogether.
“After a couple of months splurging during the holidays, January is always filled with dread as the credit card bills come due,” Smith said. “Make a commitment to once or twice a month sit down for 15 minutes and talk about your financial lives together. Do this proactively rather than reactively and your relationship will definitely be better for it.”
6. Practice gratitude daily.
Gratitude is strongly and consistently linked to greater happiness. And the benefits of a gratitude practice can positively impact everything from your own physical and mental health to your relationships.
“Make a resolution as a couple to express your gratitude more often and in meaningful ways,” Poss said. “Become more aware of the things your partner does to help you and your relationship thrive. Then let your partner know what it means to you and share your gratitude.”
That might mean remembering to say thank you for even the basic things your partner does, like taking the dog for a walk or packing your lunch. Or consider starting a gratitude jar or journal where you two can write down things you’re thankful for each day.