Use Habits to Revive Your Love
By developing or strengthening some of the relationship habits that came so naturally years ago, you can reignite old feelings and build a healthier, happier, sexier, and more mindful relationship with your partner.
Even if things have grown difficult between you, and there are challenging issues to deal with, it’s possible to learn how to have a healthy relationship. Just adopting a few new positive behaviors or dropping some negative habits can change
the entire tenor of your relationship. Because you are now paying attention with intention to your partner and the quality of your connection, you will see a positive shift in the way you interact with one another.
These habits will help you be more present with one another, communicate better, avoid divisive arguments, and understand and respond to one another’s needs in a more loving, empathic, and conscious way.
We know the idea of “developing habits” to improve your relationship might not seem sexy or appealing. Most of us think of hard work when we think about adopting new habits and dropping bad ones. We’ve all been through the struggles of trying to lose weight, start an exercise routine, or declutter our homes—only to give up too soon and feel like failures.
However, there are three reasons why developing mindful relationship habits or simply knowing how to build a healthy relationship can be a positive and successful experience for you and your partner.
First, unlike with other habits that can take weeks or months to see results, most of these mindful relationship habits will improve your connection and closeness right away. Even when you create a very small, positive change in your behavior, you will see immediate results with your partner. A little attention, love, kindness, respect, tenderness, compassion, and thoughtfulness go a long way.
Second, we teach you how to develop new habits and release bad ones in a way that isn’t overwhelming or difficult. Steve and Barrie are habit creation authors and experts, and they provide a template for developing habits in a way that ensures they stick for the long term. You won’t have to deal with the feelings of regret and failure that come with giving up too soon. We teach you how to start small and build on your habits to ensure success.
Finally, we firmly believe that your intimate relationship is the most important relationship in your life—the centerpiece of your family life, around which all other people and life endeavors revolve. A mindful, evolved relationship translates to a happy, healthy life. Knowing this, you should feel highly motivated to take care of your relationship. This motivation will keep you energized as you work on embracing new behaviors with your partner.
Healthy Relationship Habit #1: Embrace Your Love Languages
It’s natural to assume that what makes you feel loved and happy is what will make your partner feel loved and happy. But the truth is, if you are making a special effort to express your love in ways that feel good for you, you may be missing the mark with your partner.
Do you really know what makes your partner feel loved, cherished, and happy in your relationship? If you haven’t asked directly (or been told directly), your genuine efforts in building a healthy relationship might not be having the desired effect.
One of the most fundamental aspects of a mindful, intimate connection with one another is expressing and offering what author and relationship expert Dr. Gary Chapman calls your “love languages.”
You and your partner should be aware of your own love languages, and you should be willing to show love in the way your partner receives it. Without this understanding, you might end up feeling resentful that your needs aren’t being met or frustrated that your loving efforts with your partner are unappreciated.
In his bestselling book, The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts, Gary Chapman outlines five ways that people express and experience love. Over his 30 plus years of counseling couples, Dr. Chapman has noticed specific patterns in the way partners communicate—and it turns out that most of us express and interpret love in the same five ways according to his observations.
+ words of affirmation
+ quality time
+ gift giving
+ acts of service
+ physical touch
Chapman asserts that each of us has a primary and secondary love language that is revealed in the way we show love to others. By offering our own love language to our partner, we are actually revealing our deepest needs within the relationship—but not necessarily our partner’s.
Observe how your partner shows love to you, and analyze what he or she complains about within the relationship, and you will better understand what your partner needs from you.
If your partner is especially affectionate with you, it reveals that he or she craves physical affection from you. Or if she complains about how bored and lonely she feels, your partner might need more quality time with you.
Since we all don’t have the same love languages as our partners, we can easily misinterpret or neglect to understand how to give our partners what they most need. Asking your partner directly what he or she most wants and needs to feel loved and cherished is the best way to be clear. By asking and then offering words and actions to support your partner’s love languages, you tear down many of the barriers that undermine the closeness you both want to share.
Let’s review each one of these five love languages and what they mean:
1. Words of affirmation
According to Dr. Chapman, one way to express love emotionally is to use words that affirm, validate, and build up your partner. Verbal compliments, or words of appreciation, are extremely powerful communicators of your love.
+ You look so beautiful tonight.
+ I’m always so happy to see you when you come home.
+ I am amazed by your integrity.
+ You are the most important person in the world to me.
One of the best ways you can offer words of affirmation is by expressing your respect and admiration for your partner. It shows how much you love the unique individual that your partner is. This, too, is one of the primary keys to a healthy relationship.
Positive, loving words hold real value for those who prioritize this love language. So remember that negative or insulting comments cut deep—and won’t be easily forgotten.
2. Quality time
This love language is all about giving your partner your undivided attention, which makes him or her feel loved and comforted. But sitting together watching television or surfing the net doesn’t count as quality time.
Says Dr. Chapman, “What I mean is sitting on the couch with the TV off, looking at each other and talking, devices put away, giving each other your undivided attention. It means taking a walk, just the two of you, or going out to eat and looking at each other and talking.”
We are all pulled in different directions by competing forces and responsibilities, and our time is so valuable. Be sure you prioritize your quality-time-loving spouse in your busy life by setting apart some daily hours just for him or her.
3. Gift giving
For some people, receiving gifts, visible symbols of love, makes them feel deeply appreciated and cherished.
A physical gift is something you can hold in your hand. It represents that your partner was thinking of you and made an effort for you. The gift itself is a symbol of that thought, but it doesn’t have to be expensive or elaborate.
What is most important is the thought behind the gift and the feelings of love it represents.
4. Acts of service
With this love language, you do things you know your partner would like you to do; you seek to please him or her through serving.
Actions like doing your partner’s laundry, setting the table, getting the tires rotated, cleaning the house, and running errands are all acts of service that show you care for your partner.
These actions require thought, planning, time, effort, and energy. If done with a generous spirit, they are true expressions of love.
This particular love language also requires a willingness to overcome stereotypes so you can express your feelings more effectively through acts of service. There is no reason a man can’t prepare a meal or a woman can’t mow the grass. If your spouse’s love language is acts of service, then remember, what you do for him or her says “I love you” louder than words.
5. Physical touch
If this is your love language, nothing feels more loving and affirming than your partner’s touch.
These expressions through touch aren’t just meant for the bedroom—nonsexual physical connections, like handholding, kissing, or cuddling are a big part of this love language.
Someone whose love language is physical touch will feel empty and disconnected without enough touching. Touch makes them feel secure in the love of their partner.
If you didn’t grow up in an affectionate family, you may find it difficult to express your love this way. But if this is your partner’s love language, you will need to learn exactly the kind of touch he or she desires and offer it more often.
Once you and your partner are aware of each other’s love languages, your goal is to offer your partner more of what he or she needs to feel adored and cherished, which makes for a good relationship. You may need to develop some new habits during your day to offer your partner what he or she needs.
One thing to remember—because you or your partner favor a particular love language, you shouldn’t stop expressing the other love languages. According to Chapman, even though we tend to favor one language more than the others, we still enjoy expressions of the other languages as well.
How to Develop This Habit
To learn your own love language and your partner’s, take Dr. Chapman’s assessment at www.5lovelanguages.com to find out your primary and secondary love languages. This could be of great help if you are looking for answers on how to build healthy relationships.
Your highest score will be your primary love language. Your second highest score will be your secondary love language. Once you know your own primary and secondary love languages, discuss them with your partner and learn what your partner’s love languages are.
1. Discuss how you want your love languages expressed.
Now that you know your own love languages, write down a list of specific actions, words, and behaviors you would like your partner to use to express your love language.
For example, if physical touch is your love language, you might write down that you want more cuddling in bed, a back rub at night, or more hand-holding. If you are an acts of service person, you might want your partner to surprise you by handling a certain chore or bringing you breakfast in bed once a week.
2. Select one love language behavior for your partner.
Once you’ve completed your lists, choose just one love language action or behavior to begin with that you want your partner to offer. Decide how often you want the action to be expressed and the time of day you want it.
You might choose behavior that can be offered daily for this first habit. Practicing a consistent, daily action helps your partner develop the habit of offering it to you.
For example, you might request a back rub from your partner for ten minutes just before turning out the light, or you could ask your partner to handle making the bed every day before he or she goes to work. These are behaviors that can be offered daily at the same time with a regular trigger.
Ultimately, you want to meet your partner’s love language needs spontaneously and creatively, without relying on a habit trigger or planning it for a certain time of day. But for now, just begin with one new love language behavior to get the ball rolling.
3. Offer the love language habit with love.
It won’t feel like you are sincere in your efforts if you offer the requested behavior with resentment or passivity. The love language action should be offered graciously and wholeheartedly, showing your partner that you are truly pleased to be pleasing him or her.
Reflect on the person you were when you and your partner were first dating. Back in those early days, you would have been thrilled to offer this act of love to your partner. Draw from these memories and try to re-create the feelings you had then.
Make sure your trigger for this action is strong enough that you remember to act on it. You may need other reminders in the beginning to help you follow through. For this habit, it’s better if you don’t rely on your partner to remind you, as your forgetfulness can make your partner feel you aren’t truly invested in meeting his or her needs.
4. Add more love language actions to your day.
As this first habit becomes more cemented, add another love language habit to your day. Look at your partner’s list of desired love language behaviors and choose another one that you can perform regularly with a daily trigger.
However, you might decide to go for a more organic approach and look for opportunities throughout the day to express your partner’s love language. Too many scheduled love habits might begin to feel rote and rehearsed for both you and your partner. Relying on the element of surprise in meeting your partner’s needs can feel more genuine and caring.
Performing “variable” habits is harder because there is no daily consistency or set trigger built into the habit. But there are some habits that just don’t work as well on a scheduled routine, and love language habits fit this bill.
The trick is remembering to look for natural opportunities to offer the love language behaviors and to act on them. You might put small and cryptic reminders around your house to trigger you to do something loving that you know your partner will like.
You don’t need a big sign on the refrigerator that says, “Do something nice for Sue.” Your partner doesn’t need to see what you’re up to. A rubber band on a doorknob or an item put in an unusual place can trigger you without alerting your spouse.
5. Make a game of it.
To keep this habit fun, brainstorm creative ways you can express your partner’s love language. Rather than offering the traditional back rub to your physical touch-loving spouse, offer to wash her hair with a luxurious shampoo and dry it for her.
Instead of telling your words-of-affirmation partner how much you love and appreciate him, write him a poem and read it in front of the entire family.
Look for new ways every day to surprise and delight your partner so that he or she is charmed and thrilled by your loving behavior. What better way to spark your creativity and personal joy than to come up with endless ways to show love to your lover.
Healthy Relationship Habit #2: Initiate Productive Conflict
One of the best relationship tips to prevent a conflict from turning into a full-blown fight is by initiating productive conflict from the outset. We often initiate a conversation with our partner, knowing that the topic has the potential to start an argument. Yet we forge on anyway, arming ourselves to convince or coerce our partner into accepting our “rightness” about the situation.
Generally, this tactic backfires. Rather than mindfully working out a problem as a team, we end up seething in our separate corners, assured that the other person is unreasonable and selfish.
Empathy, negotiation, and compromise are essential to solving your solvable problems with your partner. As much as we might feel we have the right answer and want things to go our own way, we must put the health and strength of the relationship ahead of our own individual needs.
Initiating a conflict or potentially acrimonious discussion with some productive communication skills makes it a whole lot easier to navigate conflict with a lot less pain.
Unfortunately, research suggests that most of us are conflict averse, biting our tongue or actively taking steps to avoid conflict even when we long for a specific outcome. When we do engage, we may give in too quickly or compromise, failing to meet our own needs or devise useful solutions.
Or if we dig in our heels, trying to persuade our spouse that our belief is the right one, we miss the chance to learn more and to problem solve.
To improve communication as couples, we need to get better at initiating a productive conflict. What does that mean? It means understanding how to approach and resolve conflicts in ways that generate helpful solutions while protecting the relationship.
A productive conflict doesn’t mean just being “nicer” about fighting. Rather, it means, having an intentional and healthy process for working through differences. And this is where negotiation becomes so important.
Negotiating well, which is a part of healthy relationships, means using a process for creating better solutions—one that meets each partner’s most important needs and preferences. There are specific negotiation habits that make up this process, and these habits will save you a lot of angst and frustration if you practice and learn them before the next conflict arises.
Remember, it’s the way we handle conflict that matters—and avoiding conflict is extremely costly in the long run because we get worse outcomes and fail to seize opportunities to deepen our mutual understanding and intimacy.
These strategies on how to have a good relationship can help you and your partner create the best conditions for coming up with good solutions while protecting the harmony of your romance.
How to Develop This Habit
Again, this is a habit you can’t practice until the next conflict situation arises. So you will need to be vigilant about remembering and practicing these steps when the situation calls for them.
That’s why we believe it’s valuable to set up a system for remembering the steps for a productive conflict and to write down that system so you commit to it.
One part of the system could be to post a reminder in a few places around your house so you remember to review and use the productive conflict skills we outline here. Of course, not all of your conflicts occur in your home, so putting a reminder on your phone that pops up every day can help you be prepared when a potential conflict arises.
If this is a habit you want to focus on for the next few weeks, put a rubber band on your wrist as a reminder to use these skills and agree to remind each other tactfully if necessary.
Before you begin the conversation, be sure to review the nine ways outlined here to keep you on track.
1. Choose the right time for a discussion.
We often decide to start up a serious conversation in the evening, when we’re tired. After a long day of work or dealing with the kids, this can be the worst time to discuss a touchy topic.
Instead, schedule a time to bring up a potentially difficult conversation when you are both rested and in a good frame of mind. Be sure it’s a time when you won’t be interrupted or distracted.
2. Start with constructive language.
If you begin with something like, “I’d like to discuss the way you manage our money,” it sounds like a criticism, as the problem appears to be with your partner.
Instead, try something like, “I’d like to see if we can agree on some rules for our budget and money management.” This is a more constructive way of opening the conversation by naming a positive goal rather than implying a problem with your partner.
3. Create mutual ground rules.
There are things you or your partner can say or do that will immediately get the conversation off to a bad start.
For example, using the words “always” and “never” can make your partner bristle. Talking early in the morning before you’ve had your coffee might not work for you. Starting a conversation with, “You do this” rather than “I need this,” can put your partner on the defensive.
These are just some ideas, but you and your partner should come up with your own ground rules together.
4. Listen and validate first.
This is an important factor to consider when building a healthy relationship. Remember that letting your partner feel heard and understood is a powerful way to help him or her feel safe and willing to be more generous and flexible in negotiation and compromise.
You don’t have to agree with your partner to acknowledge what he or she is saying and feeling. Listening mindfully and attentively, nodding, and making affirmative noises or remarks can be enough.
Also, summarizing what you are hearing without judgment and asking your partner if you got it right is a powerfully constructive strategy.
5. Brainstorm several options.
When discussing a difficult or controversial topic, you may tend to rush quickly to a possible solution only to argue about whether the idea is good or bad.
Before you propose a solution, engage in a short period of brainstorming, where you both present several solutions without criticizing one another.
Once you have many possibilities on the table, you may find that combining several of them is easily agreeable to both of you.
6. Seek outside support from others.
Often we stew for days or weeks about things that are bothering us, only to let loose with a flood of criticisms that make healthy communication with your partner impossible.
Once you feel resentments brewing, find a confidant you can talk to about what is bothering you before you blow up, and ask them to help you.
A trusted friend or family member can help you clarify and articulate what is really bothering you and what your goals are. They can help you brainstorm a constructive way to open the conversation as well as think of questions to ask and ways to talk about your fears.
As new research on relationships has shown, this kind of support is highly effective in helping us better process information and create solutions.
7. Reframe criticism as a complaint.
As relationship expert John Gottman has discovered, there is an important difference between a complaint and criticism. The complaint points to behavior as the problem, where criticism implies a quality or trait of your partner is the problem.
However, if your partner opens with criticism like, “You are so sloppy and disorganized,” try not to wrangle about whether this is true. Instead, focus on specifics of the complaint and the behaviors your partner views as a problem.
Conversations that begin with criticism tend to degrade into defensiveness and counter-criticism; this makes reaching a solution all the more difficult.
Conversations that begin with a specific complaint, like, “I feel frustrated and overwhelmed when you forget to pick up your dirty clothes,” tend to lead to more concrete solutions.
8. Use the phrase, “Is there anything else?”
At the beginning of the conversation, invite your partner to completely “empty their pockets” related to their issues with you.
For example, if your partner says, “I want to talk about your parents visiting for the holidays,” instead of starting in with your thoughts, ask the question, “Is there anything else?”
There might be a deeper concern behind your partner’s comment like perhaps she feels left out when your parents visit. Allowing the real issue to emerge at the beginning of a discussion can save a lot of time and emotional energy.
9. Learn and practice repair moves.
Repair moves are words or actions that can lessen the tension if things begin to get heated in your conversation. Four powerful repair moves include:
1. Using lighthearted humor that you know will make your partner smile.
2. Reminiscing about past happy or fun time together.
3. Apologizing for your part in creating a problem or causing your partner pain.
4. Using loving touch and affection.
These moves help defuse the tension so you can move on constructively with the conversation.
Healthy Relationship Habit #3: Use “I Feel” Instead of “You”
+“You are so lazy. You never clean up after yourself.”
+ “You never pay attention to what I say.”
+ “You are self-centered, and you clearly don’t care about my feelings.”
Have you and your partner fallen into the habit of pointing the finger of blame or shame at one another when you feel wounded or angry? Have you tried looking for the best healthy relationship tips but none of them helped? If you find yourself telling your partner what he is doing wrong or defining her by the behaviors that are bothering you, you’re not alone. Most couples fall into this pattern after the initial infatuation phase begins to wane.
As a couple, you don’t want to get stuck in this phase of deflecting blame and hurling criticism. In a mindful relationship, you need to focus less on criticizing your partner and more on communicating how the behavior makes you feel.
Dr. Harville Hendrix is the author of the New York Times bestselling book Getting the Love You Want and the founder of Imago Relationship Therapy. Hendrix sees a connection between the frustrations experienced in adult relationships and our early childhood experiences.
Through his work with thousands of couples, Dr. Hendrix has learned that when you understand each other’s feelings and “childhood wounds” more empathically, you can begin to heal yourself and move toward a more conscious relationship.
He believes there are three stages in a committed relationship; when our relationship gets in trouble, we get stuck in the second stage and can’t move on to the third.
The first stage is romantic love, which begins when you first fall in love with your partner. You feel a sense of oneness or completion that seems like it will last forever.
The second phase is the power struggle. During this phase, we begin to get more defensive, blame our partners, and focus more on protecting ourselves rather than engaging in the relationship. We start to dislike many of the things that made us fall in love in the first place.
Why does this happen? Because we are subconsciously looking for a partner who can make us more whole and complete—someone who will stimulate our growth. Our partners push our buttons and trigger some of our deepest wounds, usually from childhood. But if we work through these issues, we can achieve enormous personal growth.
Unfortunately, many couples get stuck in the power struggle phase—one of the most common relationship problems—and can’t get off the cycle of defensiveness and repeat conflict.
For a relationship to reach its potential, couples need to become conscious of their power struggle and begin the journey to the third stage of relationships called real or conscious love. In a conscious and good relationship, you are willing to explore your own issues, so you feel safe enough to meet your partner’s needs.
In a conscious relationship, you recognize your own unresolved childhood issues and how these issues are showing up in your current relationship. When you find fault with your partner, you can shine a light on your own dark experiences to see how you are projecting your baggage onto your partner.
Just taking a moment each time you have frustration to consider where this upset is coming from can do wonders for easing the conflict in your marriage.
Also, as you work toward a conscious relationship, you begin to let go of illusions about your partner and see him or her not as your savior but as another wounded person like you who is struggling to be healed and to grow.
You also begin to take responsibility for communicating your needs to your partner without expecting him or her to instinctively know them. You become more intentional in your communication so that you keep the channels of mutual understanding open.
Through this process, you learn how to value one another’s needs and wishes as much as you value your own—because this contributes to the health of the relationship and your own happiness.
One way to encourage a more conscious relationship is by changing a few simple words in your communication with one another and being more intentional in expressing your frustrations and hurt feelings without divisive criticism or defensiveness.
When you express how you feel and what triggered your feelings, rather than blaming your partner, you change the entire dynamic of your conflict from divisive to collaborative.
How to Develop This Habit
Aside from executing all the relationship tips you’ve learned through the years, it’s useful to practice this habit before a real conflict arises that requires the skills involved. You can do this in a role-play situation that doesn’t feel too awkward or stilted.
Consider working on it a few times a week for about ten to fifteen minutes so you get the hang of the language involved. As with all your habit work, find a suitable time and trigger to help you remember to work on it.
You and your partner will take turns sharing a complaint or concern with one another, focusing on your own feelings and personal history rather than on your partner’s perceived flaws.
1. Focus on your feelings.
In preparation for your habit work, think about an issue with your partner in which you might want to criticize your partner’s behaviors or decisions. This could be something he or she said or did recently that is bothering you or making you feel wounded.
However, rather than dwelling on your partner’s shortcomings, think about what his or her behavior triggered in you.
Was it anger? Embarrassment? Disrespect? Feeling unloved?
Anger is often a surface emotion, covering up deeper insecurity or wound triggered by your partner’s words or actions. There may be more than one emotion that was triggered, so dig deep to consider the layers of feelings that might be involved.
2. Consider related past wounds.
As Dr. Hendrix’s relationship advice reminds us, many of our triggered feelings relate to childhood wounds or past negative experiences. Your wife’s nagging may remind you of your harsh and critical mother. Your husband’s aloofness may trigger your pain related to a cold and emotionally unavailable father.
When your partner better understands how his or her behavior triggers these old wounds and how it makes you feel, he or she will have more empathy and motivation to change the behavior.
Not all frustrations are related to your childhood or past experiences, but many are. When you isolate these situations, you have a real opportunity for healing and growth, especially with a compassionate partner.
3. Use an “I feel” statement.
If you are sharing an issue, focus on your own feelings in a succinct way without too many words.
Start with the words, “When you,” to describe the bothersome behavior, followed by the words, “I feel,” to describe your feelings, rather than assigning blame to your partner.
For example, you might say, “When you talk down to me, I feel shamed and disrespected,” rather than, “You are such a know-it-all. Stop telling me what to do!”
4. Use “It reminds me of ” to communicate past wounds.
After you communicate the issue and how it makes you feel, share the childhood or past wound that your partner’s behavior has triggered for you (if this applies). Try to share a specific example rather than a general issue.
For example, you might say: “When you talk down to me, I feel shamed and disrespected. It reminds me of the times when my dad would criticize me and call me stupid for not making straight A’s.”
5. Ask for the support you need.
Receiving support from your partner is, undoubtedly, one of the keys to a healthy relationship. If your partner said to you out of the blue, “Can you please help me heal from a painful experience in my past?” you would likely say, “Of course, I am here for you. What can I do?”
When your partner expresses that your behavior has triggered pain, he or she is also reaching out for your help, even though it may not seem like it. Of course, it’s hard to offer that help when your partner strikes back with wounding, critical words. That’s why it’s important for the partner who is sharing the problem to ask directly for what he or she needs in order to facilitate healing and reconnection.
After you communicate the issue, how it made you feel, and the past wound it triggered, tell your partner directly how he or she can help you.
“I need you to speak more respectfully and kindly to me. This will bring me closer to you and help me feel safe that you won’t treat me like my dad did. Will you do that?”
6. Practice in writing first.
It might help to first write out your thoughts about the issue you will communicate to your spouse during your practice sessions using the following template:
When my partner _____ then I feel _____. It reminds me of _____. I need my partner to _____.
7. Add active listening to your practice.
Listening is, no doubt, one of the best things to do to address all of your relationship problems. Once you both get the hang of communicating your complaints or hurts using the language outlined here, add active listening as part of the dialogue practice.
This will give you the opportunity to practice a conscious dialogue in which one partner presents an issue using conscious language and the other listens empathically.
Remember these healthy relationship tips for couples:
+ Use “I” words when describing your feelings as the speaker.
+ Describe what past pain the issue triggered for you (if any).
+ The listener should validate the partner with words like, “That makes sense,” or “I can see that.”
+ The listener should mirror the partner’s words, then ask, “Is that right?”
+ The listener should ask, “Is there more?” to give the speaker the chance to say everything needed.
+ The listener should empathize with the partner’s feelings with “I imagine you must feel …”
+ The speaker should ask for what he or she needs to help resolve or heal the situation.
These practice sessions are to help you learn how to communicate more mindfully and empathically, but you may not be able to completely resolve your issue during these sessions.
You may need to revisit the second habit about initiating productive conflict for ideas on resolving issues and reaching compromise once you have had a conscious dialogue about a problem or area of conflict.