Everyone will tell you the key to a happy relationship is looking at the big picture. You know, solidifying your bond through trust, communication, and love. Making sure you’re on the same page about future goals, kids, and finances.
There’s something inherently gratifying about giving and receiving affection. It may or may not lead to sex, and either is fine. Just don’t plan it. “Many couples are too busy to touch or feel that if they do it will lead them to sex. And if they don’t have time to get physical, they don’t touch,” Firstein says. “This is a huge mistake. Touching is part of broad-based eroticism and does not have to be goal oriented, but rather a playful act between partners.”
When you leave in the morning, don’t just yell “Goodbye!” and bolt out the door. “Stop what you are doing when your partner leaves or returns and look at them, greet them, and give each other an embrace—the kind where you relax your bodies into one another’s. This promotes and strengthens feelings of affection and connection. It makes the other feel loved and important,” Firstein says. They’ll be thinking about that hug when you’re apart all day, unable to wait for similar treatment upon their return.
The ultimate bond-builder? Netflix and chilling—minus the Netflix. Spend at least an hour a week hanging out with your S.O. sans the buzz of notifications and alerts from your devices by putting them on airplane mode.“You need to be present, available and accessible to your partner,” Firstein says. Without any distractions, you’ll be able to sit, talk, and enjoy each other.
Whether the scent of pasta from your first date wafts through the air or you get a whiff of your partner’s cologne, use the your senses to revisit happy moments. Scent is strongly linked to memory, and a highly erotic hack for channeling nostalgia. One study published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin found that nostalgia makes you more hopeful for the future. Go ahead, give him a sniff.
Reach peak happiness levels by introducing each other to your favorite workouts (you love strength training, he digs yoga). It’s an organic way to gain valuable insight into each other’s lives and get fit in the process. There’s truth to the saying that couples who sweat together stay together: Research from the Journal of Personal Psychology suggests that engaging in a novel activity together, as opposed to walking the dog or reading in bed, breeds heightened relationship satisfaction. (Dance your way fit together with High-Intensity Dance Cardio, the first-ever socanomics DVD!)
Many couples get in the habit of staying up late watching TV while the other goes to bed early. But by synching your schedules, you’ll create an element of closeness. The act of kissing goodnight in bed is very intimate (isn’t pillow talk the best?). Even if it’s not possible, it’s something to strive for once a week, says Firstein.
It sounds simple, but laughing is the key to couple satisfaction. Research from the University of Kansas found the more times a woman laughed at a man’s jokes, the more likely she became romantically invested. But the pressure isn’t on him to perform standup: The real indicator of relationship success is when both parties laughed together. Start by watching a funny YouTube video or attending a comedy show together. Forging inside jokes you can laugh about down the road breeds closeness, and it’ll make strangers wonder your secret to couple bliss.
When you’re not digitally detoxing, use your devices to your romantic benefit. Many couples get in the habit of only emailing or texting mundane questions throughout the day like “Need anything at the grocery store?” or “Who’s picking up the kids after school?” Once a week, surprise your partner with a spontaneous, loving email. It doesn’t have to be overtly sexual if that’s not who you are. As long as it’s genuine and shows you’re thinking about them. “I like the idea of surprising texts or surprises in general,” says Firstein. “Routine and familiarity kill romance. Newness and surprise are what make things exciting.” She’s also a proponent of surprise gifts and flowers, but unless your budget allows for it, real love shouldn’t have to cost a thing.