It’s useful to look at your relationship the way you’d look at a rose or an orchid: a living thing that requires daily, weekly, monthly, and annual maintenance. (Let me disclaim right here that I’m not a gardener, I just married one, so forgive me if my metaphor is slightly inaccurate.)
I picked rose and orchid because in my amateur observation, these are not the easiest plants to cultivate and keep happy. Without over-focusing on the plants themselves, keep them in mind as you build a rhythm of healthy interaction as a couple. You can break it down into the following pieces, like this:
Every day, as a couple…
–Practice the habit of happy reunions, with a kiss (research shows kisses longer than 6 seconds are best) and a genuine (if brief) connection when you see each other at the end of the day.
–Offer each other “stress-relieving conversations” (a John Gottman concept) in which you listen empathetically and positively to the other person’s report on their day. No criticism, no problem-solving: you’re each other’s biggest fan, here to listen to how the day went and give each other the comfort of simple companionship.
–Plan and enjoy a date night. It’s ideal if date night is the same night each week, and that you make it a passion of yours to honor this ritual. You don’t have to go out, you don’t have to spend money: date night could be a quiet evening together watching geek TV (my favorite), or something more active and exciting. But it’s just you two. Got kids? Interview and hire sitters, and pay them well: you’ll want reliable help to make this a regular ritual.
–Hold a business meeting. That’s right—a business meeting. Call it that. I’m thinking later in the afternoon on Sunday, at the dining-room table. You review the upcoming week, talk about finances, glance at longer-term plans, and accomplish any other “staff” items you have together as a couple. It can be fun to frame it this way, and it gets tedious stuff out of the way on a regular basis.
–Plan and enjoy a date day. This time it’s not just two or three hours in the evening, it’s a whole day when you’re together and having fun. Again, no pressure to do anything elaborate or expensive (though that can occasionally add a lot of spice to this activity). Take a ferry to Bainbridge for the day. Watch five movies in a row. Run a 5K together. It’s your day to plan and enjoy just the way you like.
–Have a “relationshippy” conversation. Set some time aside once a month to make your therapist happy and do some communication exercises, dream conversations, conflict resolution, or whatever else is important for the health of your relationship right now. That’s right: you don’t have to do this every day or even every week (provided you’re doing all the other stuff). It can be tiring work, or it can make you anxious. But if you build a monthly habit, you get used to it, and you get better at it.
–Go on an annual honeymoon. Honeymoons are wasted on newlyweds! They become more enjoyable by the year if you keep doing them. Mine back in 2003 was … okay. But now I’m a much better traveler, and I know my husband much better, so we’ll likely have a better time when we fly back east this fall. If not, there’s always next year! The annual honeymoon is a great example of something you no longer do that worked in your early days as a couple … so it’s simple: just start doing that stuff again!
This is not an exhaustive list. Feel free to change it and add your own ideas. The key point is this: healthy, happy couples cultivate their relationship over time, in lots of different ways. Use this guideline to give your rhythm shape and new energy. Enjoy!