Whilst time and attention are obviously important priorities in a relationship, they’re often sorely ignored.
This is because it can be difficult to find the time or give attention to more than one thing.
But what you find the time to nurture is often what thrives.
How do you practice shifting priorities in a relationship?
You need to put aside time for your relationship priorities.
With loads of laundry and emails to be answered, it’s easy to let your relationship fall by the wayside. In fact, many view time for their relationship as a luxury and not a given.
If this attitude is sustained, year in and year out, and you don’t do anything actively to devote some time, you risk growing apart.
Basically, it’s all down to switching priorities.
For some this is easier, for others, harder. Regardless of how the idea of prioritizing your relationship makes you feel, see if you can challenge yourself.
If it feels like a huge effort, think about why that might be.
Maybe you’re worried the house is going to fall apart if you don’t get a grip on the laundry? Or you may think your children are going to miss that after-school activity if you use the time for your relationship?
Regardless of why it feels like an effort, you might find it’s worth giving it a try. Remember, just because you decide to change your priorities for a few weeks (or only one week!), it doesn’t mean it has to change forever.
But, part of learning how to build a strong relationship is trying out new ways of keeping your connection alive.
And the thing is, if you put your relationship first from time to time, you’ll be building a relationship buffer together, which may come in handy when things get tough. Like when one of you falls ill, has far too much to do, or if a close family member passes away.
What you do today doesn’t only affect today. It also affects tomorrow and all the years to come.
What can you do to shift your priorities in a relationship when you’ve got little time? Here are 3 ways.
1. Rather than vacuuming the house, set aside some time to talk.
A quarter of an hour here and there where you can talk about things that aren’t practicalities can do wonders.
Focus on an emotional topic or something that’s dear to you.
2. When you’re sitting on the sofa watching Netflix, don’t sit far apart.
Hold each other’s hands or lean towards each other.
This is a pretty straightforward strategy and one you can take advantage of in other situations too, like when you’re having a cup of coffee together.
3. Rather than multitasking, look them in the eyes.
You’re probably scrolling on your phone or replying to a text when your partner’s telling you about their day.
Looking them in the eyes acknowledges them, their feelings and fosters connection. And this truly is one of the best ways of how to build a strong relationship –—through validating your partner.
Couples who actually look one another in the eyes and give the other person their full attention tend to be happier in their relationships.
In the words of political activist Simone Weil, “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.” See what happens when you practice this over time.
What can you do if you’ve got more time?
Rather than polishing off three episodes on Netflix, celebrate something together!
My personal opinion is that we celebrate way too seldom in life. But, in all honesty, my opinion here isn’t what counts.
What does count, however, is that research shows that celebrating is important for your relationship to last over time.
And, celebrating doesn’t have to be a big thing.
It’s enough that the one who’s got some good news to relay is met with joy and enthusiasm by their partner. Open a bottle of wine, make some tea, or just share some sweets together.
Date night is a true classic!
Make sure to schedule some time just for the two of you to do something together. It doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive. Perhaps you could decide to cook dinner together.
Research has shown that planning and carrying out activities together strengthens relationships, leading to a happier relationship over time.
Take turns surprising each other with a planned activity. Again, it doesn’t have to be anything mind-blowing.
Just the idea of you mashing the potatoes just the way your partner likes them, or putting on your partner’s favorite music, could do the trick.
These are small gestures that show the other you know them and care about them. This does a lot for your relationship!
Get better at validating your partner.
Researchers Julie and John Gottman have been studying relationships for more than 40 years.
One of the things they’ve looked at specifically is how to build a strong relationship through understanding why certain relationships last and others don’t.
Now, it’s clearly not desirable in every situation that relationships should remain forever. And the fact of the matter is, the older you get, the harder that lifelong monogamy ideal becomes.
One reason is that most people need to stay together longer today than they needed to 100 years ago, simply because they live longer.
From that perspective, the challenge becomes even greater.
But if you assume that the one you’re with at the moment is the one you’d like to stay together with, an important principle based on Gottman’s research, is showing your partner validation.
It may sound ridiculously simple, but it’s surprisingly difficult for many to live up to this in everyday life.
What does validation look like in relationships?
Validation isn’t only about listening to your partner, it’s also about paying attention to your partner’s every attempt at communication.
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Couples who are good at this respond to the other person’s bids for attention. For example, when they sigh, laugh at something they’re reading, or when they’re trying to get closer, physically.
Not noticing the other person’s attempt at communication isn’t about being a “bad” partner or evil at heart. You can easily get stuck in a pattern where you don’t see or hear your partner.
But if you recognize you’re not responding to your partner’s attempts — or they don’t respond to yours — it’s important to improve it.
Try to think back to a situation when the other person was making a bid for your attention.
What has your response been? If your partner sighs when they do the washing-up, do you ask if he or she is OK? Or do say nothing?
If your partner laughs when scrolling on their phone, do you show you’re curious about what’s so funny? Or do you just carry on with your own thing?
The trick here is to turn towards each other, not away from one another.
Learning how to build a strong relationship by shifting priorities isn’t rocket science but that doesn’t mean it always comes naturally.
Life is hard and even the most important things to us, like our partner, can get lost in the shuffle.
If you want to make improvements, focus on both short-term, and long-term goals, like devoting time to one another and paying attention to attempts at communication.
You’ll be surprised what a difference it makes!
Leigh Norén is a sex therapist and writer with a Master of Science in Sexology. She’s been featured in Women’s Health, Thrive Global, The Good Men Project, Elephant Journal, Glamour, and more. If you’re looking for ways to improve intimacy, and your sexual connection with your partner check out Leigh’s online program Re:Desire. It’s a unique program for people of all genders with low sex drive who want to get their sex drive back and their relationship on track.