My husband and I just got back from a vacation in Maine, where we spent a few glorious days hiking in Acadia National Park. We ate lobster rolls, searched tidepools, and took naps on the ocean rocks like the nearby seals. The best part? There was no service. Without the constant flood of emails, text messages, and social media updates, we could simply enjoy each other’s presence. A luxury.
Quality in-person time is especially important in our digital age because, as a recent study published in the American Journal of Health Promotion shows, higher rates of social media use are tied to greater loneliness. Tweeting at your sweetie, might not be as hot as holding their hand on a nice hike.
Like many couples, my husband and I have a hard time carving out quality time for just the two of us. At any given moment, we are either working, meeting up with friends, visiting family, or running errands. It takes conscious effort to set aside time for us to spend together doing something just for fun. But it’s been vital to our relationship and my personal happiness.
This is consistent with the findings from the longest longitudinal study on happiness conducted at Harvard University that showed that people who invest in their relationships live longer and happier lives. Beyond social class, genetics, or cholesterol levels, the study found that the leading driver of someone’s ability to combat health issues was their positive relationships with others.
Here are four simple ways to spend more quality time with your partner and boost your happiness:
1. Schedule a Monthly Date Night
My husband and I know our weekends will book up if we aren’t careful, so we have a recurring calendar invite for “date night” the first Saturday of every month. We’ve made a pact to not to schedule over date night and if we absolutely must do something else that night, we reschedule date night for later in the month.
Date night is especially important if one or both of you travel for work. “If you cannot be physically together, then you have to be effective and consistent communicators,” Kimberly Leitch, LCSW-R, and Talkspace therapist said. “[Your partner] needs to know that even though you are apart, they and the relationship are a priority,” she added. “Make sure your time together is special and meaningful. Since there is not quantity there needs to be quality.”
The secret to a successful date night is that it is reserved for doing something fun together. No errands, difficult conversations, or multi-tasking. Just carefree time to reconnect and nurture your relationship.
2. Device-Free Dinners
On the rare occasion that my husband and I get to eat dinner together, we have a rule that no devices are allowed at the table. Not only does this help us focus on connecting with each other, but it also us helps us stick to our individual goals of limiting screen-time.
As Leitch shared, “The relationship doesn’t maintain itself.” By keeping dinners device-free, you will create more opportunities for meaningful conversations with each other. “You need to work on it together to keep it alive,” she added, “and this is accomplished by spending that time together and focusing on your friendship.”
3. Get to Know Your Love Languages
I love self-inquiry tools, so when I learned about the 5 Love Languages, a relationship framework developed by marriage counselor Dr. Gary Chapman, I was immediately intrigued. I learned that my love language is “Words of Affirmation,” meaning I feel loved when my husband tells me that he appreciates about me, whereas my husband’s love language is “Acts of Service,” meaning he feels loved when I do something nice like take out the trash. Understanding that we have different ways of giving and receiving love has been eye-opening for us individually and for our relationship.
While the 5 Love Languages is helpful, the framework itself is not the end all be all. Leitch reminds her clients that their happiness shouldn’t depend on their partner’s behaviors. “And, what if one person is doing all the work and the other is not?” Leitch posed. “That could lead to feelings of resentment and unworthiness.” Once you understand your love language, the key is to better communicate your needs with your partner and do what you need to do to take care of yourself, too. It’s important to take responsibility for your own happiness.
4. Practice JOMO (Joy of Missing Out)
It is nearly impossible to keep up with the fast pace of modern life. From happy hours and potluck dinners, to concerts and weekend getaways, my husband and I could fill every waking moment doing fun activities with friends and family. “While it is important to spend time with friends and family as a couple as it allows you to get to know a different part of that person,” Leitch shared, “it is also important to spend time alone together.”
In order to say “yes” to more quality time with your partner, you may have to say “no” to some group activities. Even though you’ll be missing out on some fun, think about all the joy you will gain by spending quality time with your partner. We call this feeling “JOMO,” or the joy of missing out.
Over the 10+ years my husband and I have been together, I’ve come to realize that investing in our relationship is an investment in my overall happiness. When our relationship feels solid, I feel solid. When our relationship feels rocky, I feel rocky. The two are intimately intertwined and that’s why I’ll continue to prioritize quality time together.
Originally published on Talkspace.
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