7 Simple Exercises To Strengthen Your Relationship

Romantic relationships are tough at the best of times, but the pandemic has created a unique set of challenges and opportunities for many couples.

For some, the last two years have meant a forced union in tight spaces, more fighting and shifting priorities. But studies show It hasn’t been all bad. About a third of couples said their relationships improved during the pandemic, in part because they learned better communication skills and enjoyed spending time together.

Whether your own relationship has suffered or flourished over the years, every partnership can benefit from a tune-up. We’ve rounded up seven science-based relationship exercises that can help couples strengthen their bond. You and your partner can do one exercise a day for a week, or just pick a few that sound fun to try.

Keep track of the good things.

Identify at least five things your partner usually does to show love. Keep track of the big and small things you both do or say that make you feel loved and connected to each other. Include things as small as a compliment or kiss goodbye, or larger gestures like buying flowers, cooking dinner, or cleaning up. Studies show that in successful relationships, positive interactions outnumber negative moments by at least five to one.

A smiling couple embraces.

A doodle of two ice cream cones.

What science says:

When the researchers studied videos of couples discussing various topics, they noted a variety of positive and negative interactions. Some couples laughed, smiled, touched and congratulated each other, even during disagreements. Others rolled their eyes, scoffed or got angry or defensive. From this work, a surprising pattern emerged. Couples who were meant to stay together showed at least five times more positive than negative interactions. In real life, no one can keep a constant count of positive and negative signs, but the lesson is clear: Increasing positive and kind gestures in a relationship can help protect it from the inevitable bad days.

Other studies support the value of being kind and generous with your partner. Research from the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia studied the role of generosity in the marriages of 2,870 men and women. Generosity was defined as “the virtue of giving good things to one’s spouse freely and abundantly,” such as simply making coffee for them in the morning, frequently showing affection, or being willing to forgive. Couples with the highest scores in generosity scale they were much more likely to report that they were “very happy” in their marriages.

A doodle of a star cluster.

Hold hands.

Find as many opportunities as you can to hold hands with your partner today: sitting at the breakfast table, walking out the door, or watching TV. Then take a few minutes to talk about something in your life that is causing you stress and anxiety. Maybe it’s a problem at work, a problem with the kids, or a financial concern. Whatever it is, hold your partner’s hand while you talk about it.

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Think about how it feels to touch your partner, feel your hand squeeze, and squeeze another hand.

A doodle of birds holding the tips of their wings.

What science says:

The Beatles were singing about love when they wrote “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” but science has proven them right. Research shows not only that regular physical contact is a powerful way to connect with someone, but also that holding hands reduces stress.

James A. Coan, a neuroscientist at the University of Virginia, recruited 16 married women participate in a study on how holding hands affects the brain. To simulate stress, he subjected each woman to a mild electric shock while the woman was in three scenarios: alone, holding a stranger’s hand, and holding her husband’s hand.

Brain scans showed that the stress of receiving an electric shock was less when the woman held someone’s hand. But when the woman held her husband’s hand, the calming effect was even greater and was similar to the effect of a pain-relieving drug. The benefit of holding hands was particularly pronounced among women who had the highest marital happiness scores. Dr. Coan repeated the study with committed same-sex couples and found a similar benefit.

Why Holding Hands Makes a Difference in a Relationship Dr. Coan said research suggests that a supportive marriage or committed partner gives the brain the opportunity to outsource some of its more difficult neural work. Basically, this means that when partners hold hands with us, they also carry some of our emotional baggage.

A man kisses a smiling woman on the nose.

A doodle of an open book.

Read to each other.

Each partner must choose a favorite story; It could be an excerpt from a book or magazine, a children’s book, or a poem. Now find time to read your selections. You’ll be surprised how much fun it is to have someone read to you and read to someone you love. Don’t just listen to the words; Be aware of your partner’s voice.

After the reading, take some time to talk about why each of you selected the piece you read. Did it have a special meaning for you?

A doodle of a smiling fish.

A doodle of two plants, the leaves touch.

What science says:

Research shows that people become closer to each other when reveal something about ourselves Y Share new thoughts and ideas. Studies also show that relationships benefit when couples experience new things together. Do you remember how he felt when a father read to him when he was a child? The act of reading to each other can foster the same feelings of comfort and closeness.

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A doodle of a fluffy cloud.

A doodle of a fluffy cloud.

Accept small problems.

Write down one or two of your partner’s annoying habits that create occasional conflicts in your relationship. (Often these minor conflicts involve household chores, such as paying bills, doing laundry, or making the bed.)

Share your choices with each other and talk about them without judging. Use the discussion to identify a positive trait that might help explain the behavior. Maybe her husband drops his stuff on the front porch every night. Is it because she rushes to see the kids before bed? Is your wife in a bad mood after work? Maybe it’s because she skipped lunch during work so she could be home with the family earlier.

Learning what’s behind a particular behavior can help you accept it, and even appreciate it.

A doodle of a stack of dirty dishes.

A smiling couple embraces.

What science says:

This is a brief exercise in “acceptance therapy.” Researchers know that 70 percent of the conflicts we have with our partners are never resolved. But that doesn’t mean these little annoyances don’t add up and create a lot of extra stress in our lives. Instead of trying to force change, acceptance therapy encourages partners to learn to accept each other’s differences. When members feel accepted and understood, they are more likely to change willingly, often making more changes than requested. And even if no change occurs, acceptance and compassion are likely to bring the couple closer together.

A doodle of a rainbow with two clouds.

Share your perfect day.

Imagine your perfect day and share it with your partner over a meal. Discuss it in as much detail as possible so that it reveals information about your likes, dislikes, hopes, and dreams. If you can, try to plan some version of each other’s perfect days that you can experience together.

A couple of kisses on the lips.

What science says:

When the researchers wanted to make it easier for strangers to get closer, they created a series of questions to help people get to know each other quickly. “What would constitute a ‘perfect’ day for you?” is on the list of those questions. (You may have heard of this list from the popular New York Times story, “The 36 questions that lead to love”.) The reason questions bring people together is that they force them to reveal something about themselves. Talking about your perfect day is a form of self-disclosure and can help you forge a deeper connection with your partner.


A doodle of a stopwatch.

Feel each other’s heartbeat.

Find just a few minutes with your partner in a quiet space. Have a one minute timer ready. Now follow these steps:

  • Standing and facing each other.

  • Each of you should place your right hand on the other’s chest, just above the heart.

  • Bring your left hand to your own chest and cover your partner’s hand.

  • One of you will have to release it for a second to start the timer.

  • Spend the next minute looking into each other’s eyes as your hands rest on each other’s hearts and hands.

Try not to laugh or talk. Be aware of the other’s breathing. Be present and calm together. When the timer goes off, breathe. Discuss how it felt to experience this non-verbal connection with each other.

What science says:

Relationship researchers know that eye contact and touch create feelings of closeness. To study the effect of mutual gaze on romantic feelings, 168 college students in two studies they were matched with someone they didn’t know. They were assigned to various groups of experiments, including a group that was told to look each other in the eye for two minutes. Some groups looked at their hands, while others looked at each other and counted the blinks. Students who looked into each other’s eyes reported significantly higher feelings of affection.

Other research shows that physical contact is crucial for creating and strengthening relationships, and is associated with greater relationship and partner satisfaction. Conflicts are resolved more quickly when one of the partners hugs, shakes hands or kisses. Whether you do the hands-on challenge just once or multiple times, remember that eye contact and touch are a powerful combination for forging a deeper connection with your partner.

A couple stands nearby looking into each other's eyes and smiling.

Let’s practice gratitude together.

Write three things about your partner for which you feel grateful. Take a moment to read what you wrote about each other. Are you surprised by your partner’s feelings? Talk about these moments of gratitude and how they make you feel more connected to each other.

A doodle of two pads of paper and two pens.

What science says:

Showing gratitude on a daily basis is a common mindfulness practice that has been shown to increase happiness, help us sleep better, and even reduce illness. Gratitude exercises can also make us feel closer to our romantic partner, strengthen our friendships and even make us best colleagues at work.

Grateful couples are more satisfied in their relationships and feel grateful can even predict whether couples stay together or break up. A study he called gratitude “a booster shot” for romantic relationships. The bottom line is this: the more you practice gratitude toward your partner, the more connected you’ll feel.

This story was adapted from the 7-Day Love Challenge originally published in June 2019

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