My husband and I have been together for 23 years.
I’m CEO and COO of our household. I am the keeper of calendars and to-do lists, the driver, the coach, the classroom volunteer, the cook, the homework tutor, the historian, and the socializer. He’s a public speaker and travels frequently for work.
During his busy seasons, much of our relationship takes place via five-minute (if we’re lucky) phone calls as I’m crawling into bed, exhausted, another day of solo-parenting behind me.
It’s a recipe that is ripe for stagnation, no matter how you look at it. After so many years together, what new and exciting things are left? With so little time together, how do we maintain a connection beyond being business partners?
The problem with most tips for staying connected is that they set everyone up for failure. Yes, exotic and spontaneous gifts and random bits of poetry are romantic, but in the reality of today’s hustle-bustle world, the time and effort it takes can literally be too much. Our hearts may be in the right place, but full plates leave little room for extra.
Here are four super easy, everyday things anyone can do to keep connected in your relationship.
1. Reach out and touch someone.
My husband once told me, “I notice you, here, in the kitchen, pajama pants on, hair in a bun, sweating over supper. I am not distracted by the stacks of paper from school and the mail to sort and the trash that needs taking out and the crying cats. You are not lost in the mess. I see you.” Want to know how he told me this? By trailing his arm along my shoulders and back as he walked by.
He didn’t stop. He didn’t talk. But he communicated something to me that I sorely needed to hear.
The benefits of touch extend far beyond having a satisfying sex life. Nonsexual touching has been shown to increase positive thinking and trust, lower anxiety and stress levels, and even boost the immune system.
But beyond the internal benefits, touching is a powerful act of communication between partners. It tells someone they are seen. They are thought of. They are important. The simplest touch—scooting close to a mate on the couch, putting a hand on someone’s back as you walk up stairs together—is a powerful amplifier for the message, “We are in this together.”
2. Be an HR nightmare.
One of the easiest relationship ruts to fall into is what my husband and I call the “executive function.” We can talk for hours about the kids, financial recaps, work vents, household chores, and what the next week holds schedule wise.
A good rule of thumb is, if it’s a safe question to ask a coworker or an employee, it’s not a connection question. Your intimate partner should be related to on an intimate level, not at the same level you relate to your office mates.
Go beyond the safe questions to the ones that would get you in a lot of trouble at work. Ask your partner about hopes and dreams, who’s on their celebrity freebie list, and what their fantasies are. Tell them how good their butt looks in their pajama pants, send them suggestive texts, and touch them. All the time.
3. Be a newspaper, not a search engine.
Search engines are wonderful things. You can type in any topic or question imaginable and you will get immediate, thorough results. Newspapers work a little differently. The reader is presented with headlines and brief introductions to a variety of stories. If the reader is interested, they can settle in and read a particular story in its entirety.
If my husband is communicating like a search engine and I want to learn about his day, I have to ask if he had any meetings, if he received any interesting feedback on his work, if he rented a fun car for his drive from the airport, where he had dinner, if he ran into any old friends, and so on. The responsibility for shared information is on me—I have to ask the right questions to get the right information.
If my husband is communicating like a newspaper, though, he tells me little snippets and odds and ends about his day. When something catches my interest, I can follow up with questions and pursue it more fully. The responsibility for shared information is on him—he offers highlights, which give us a launching point to engage more deeply.
Communication shouldn’t be hard or tricky. With as much time as couples spend apart during the day—especially if one of them works long hours or travels much—being newspapers with the small details of their days can make all the difference in feeling like they continue to live a shared life.
4. Rise above infantryman; be a goddamn general.
Dinnertime can be a bit hectic in our lives. My husband often walks through the door to a touch of chaos—kids wrapping up homework and clamoring for food, me trying not to burn dinner while also cleaning up lunchboxes and the mail from the day. He is wonderful about dropping his bags and asking “What can I do to help?” Sounds awesome, right? Yeah, it’s not.
It’s not awesome because at that moment, I don’t need another task. Trying to identify what still needs doing, deciding if it’s worth delegating, and then communicating that to him just adds to my already-full plate. I don’t need another troop to deploy with orders.
What I need is a partner who can look at an empty table and know that it needs place settings…and then just handle it.
My husband is fully capable of doing laundry when he sees the bin is full. He knows what it takes to get a child ready for a soccer game in the morning without me giving him a checklist. He can pack a bag for a sleepover and get the kids to school with all their snow gear and even schedule a babysitter and handle dinner reservations for a date night.
My husband is not an inferior member of our team. We are both generals. The more he handles day-to-day life without being asked, the more I can relax and lean into him as an equal and reliable partner in our wild, crazy life.
Staying connected in a long-term relationship is hard. Life is tedious and distracting, and it’s easy to fall into common relationship ruts along the way. These four relationship hacks are super easy day-to-day things you can do to minimize extra effort and maximize the natural connection that already exists between you!