The importance of trust in a relationship is unparalleled. Everything else that’s good in a relationship, like safety, support, and comfort can come only after trust has been established. And then there’s the idea that love cannot exist without trust. While this may seem drastic, how can you love someone if you don’t feel safe with them?
The thing about trust is that it can be broken at any point, and when that happens, all the good you’ve fostered with another person seems to go away with it. You can feel like you’re left with nothing. The good news is that trust can be rebuilt.
Trust is like a muscle that needs to be exercised, a car that needs regular tuning. Trust can be established early on in the relationship, but it can fade away through certain actions or sometimes more importantly, lack of actions. All aspects of a romantic relationship need maintenance. There are many things you can do that help you maintain a strong level of trust.
Written words allow you to say the things you might not be able to say otherwise. Write your partner a “love” letter in whatever form you’d like. Go the traditional route and have it be romantic, poetic, handwritten, or maybe even in cursive. But maybe that’s not your style. Draw a picture. Write a poem. Write about a favorite memory you shared. Write down your love story, how you met, and when you fell in love. Put a stamp on it and send it in the mail!
Make a list of 25 things you appreciate about your partner. They can be big or small things. Make it a mix of character qualities and actions that you appreciate.
Sit down and do this together with your partner, exchange and read aloud the end. Or you could surprise your partner with your list. Put it on their nightstand, next to the coffee maker, or in their work bag.
Couples therapy is not just about solving relationship problems. It’s also about growth and change, moving towards mutual goals together as a team.
First, set aside devoted to goal setting. Start with a discussion about what short and long-term goals you’d like to set for your relationship. Talk about what your “vision” for your relationship is. Discuss what principles represent a healthy, happy relationship for each of you, and then try to incorporate those into your goals.
Make sure your goals are SMART:
Try to include at least one fun goal (a trip to Mexico or learn to play the guitar together)! Once you’ve set a few long-term and short-term goals, share how the goals make you feel.
The idea of icebreakers might elicit anxious feelings due to past experience or seem cheesy or juvenile, something reserved for summer camp or work trainings. But icebreakers can be an effective way to bring romantic partners closer together. Icebreakers are not surprisingly, designed to “break the ice” and allow you to get to a place where you’re less guarded and more open. Once the metaphorical gate has been opened, you can let your partner in.
Icebreaker ideas for couples:
Share 3 of your favorite songs with your partner as a way to be more open and vulnerable with them. Music is very personal, discussing your musical preferences can reveal a lot about the person.
Ask each other the following about your favorite songs:
Listen to the song with your partner. Sit together and avoid doing anything else but listening. Go for a walk and share headphones while taking turns listening to each other’s favorite songs.
While this may seem like a quiz, try not to take it too seriously. If your partner doesn’t answer in the way you’d like, take it as an opportunity to learn more about each other. Remember that all couples, even those together for decades, are always learning new things about their partner.
Create your own questions or use the following sample questions:
Journaling is a proven way to help express and process thoughts and feelings. Sometimes it’s hard to say in words how you’re feeling. A journal can be a creative way to communicate what you want to say. There are many ways a couple could journal together.
Ideas for having a relationship journal:
No matter how you use it, the journal will serve as a safe space to be more open and honest with your partner.
Some of the benefits of journaling as a couple include:
This classic exercise is more of a skill than anything, and one that can be transformative in times of conflict. “I” statements are about removing the blame. Instead of pointing fingers, you take responsibility and choose to focus on how you’re feeling. Use “I” statements to stop your argument from escalating.
It’s not the most conventional date, but volunteering as a couple could be a more meaningful one. Volunteering is a different way to reconnect with your partner that will make a lasting impact both on your relationship and on the community.
Benefits of volunteering as a couple:
Start by discussing a cause meaningful to you and then research how you can help that cause in your community. The conversation alone will help you know each other better.
Vision boards are not always taken seriously, but the benefits are not something to roll your eyes at. Aligning your goals and intentions is an important part of building a healthy relationship. Whether you believe in manifestation or not, the act of creating the board together will get you talking about more meaningful things. Vision boards don’t have to follow any set of rules, but usually, they consist of images and words that represent things that mean something to you.
Ideas for a couples vision board:
Research has found that simply looking into each other’s eyes can boost oxytocin, the feel-good chemical associated with love. Sit in a comfortable sport, facing one another, touching or not. Set a timer for 5 minutes and look into your partner’s eyes while also focusing on your breath. While looking into your partner’s eyes repeat a mantra in your head such as “I see and accept my partner for who they are”. It’s okay to feel uncomfortable, especially at first. Eye gazing will make you feel vulnerable, but you’ll also feel a greater bond and sense of trust after.
Active listening involves giving your full undivided attention to the other person, but it’s more than that. Active listening is also about showing you have heard them, you care about what they said, and you want to fully understand. Ideally, you’d want to use active listening all the time. But it does take practice. You could start with what the Gottman Method refers to as the “stress-reducing conversation”. Take turns talking about something in your life that is bringing you stress, whether it’s work, family, or even your relationship.
You can practice active listening by first giving your partner “the floor”. Allow them to speak without any interruptions. Resist the need to react or respond. While they talk you could nod your head, smile, and keep eye contact.
Ask questions if you need clarification on something, Ask questions to show your interest and curiosity.
After they’ve finished, paraphrase what they said. “It sounds like…Is that correct?” This shows them that you were paying attention, and you want to make sure you understand what they are trying to convey.
Reflect on what your partner said. Try to put yourself in their shoes to get a sense of how and why they have this perspective. Next, validate your partner’s feelings. Remember, validating is different from agreeing. You might not feel the same way as your partner about something, but you can still empathize with them.
Examples of validation statements include:
While we all want to feel loved, we feel love in different ways. There’s a good chance you and your partner don’t speak the same “love language”, or five main ways in which people give and receive love in a relationship. Knowing how your partner wants to be loved will strengthen your connection and avoid miscommunication and disconnect.
The 5 love languages are:
Once you know your partner’s love language you’ll be able to avoid misunderstandings and help your partner feel more appreciated.
You can start by each of you taking the 5 Love Languages quiz.
When it comes to understanding your partner’s needs uncovering their love language is only the beginning. You can take it a step further by understanding their core relationship desires as well. This is about digging deeper in order to know how to give your partner “that feeling”. That unmatched feeling of being truly loved, understood, and appreciated.
The core relationship desires are:
While the above activities and exercises can be done on your own, they cannot take the place of therapy. The Couples Center has experienced, licensed therapists who can give you the tools you need to have the relationship you desire.