Dmytro Zinkevych/Shutterstock
Source: Dmytro Zinkevych/Shutterstock

Relationship ruts can come on gradually; perhaps you and your partner love each other immensely, but are lately feeling more like roommates than soul mates. Boredom, irritation, and little resentments can become breeding grounds for dissatisfaction and conflict. What starts out as benign stagnation can grow quite ugly over time if left unchecked, and even end a relationship for good. Perhaps you're in more than a rut and have been going through a true rough patch, maybe with increased fighting and disconnection, or even a sense of betrayal. Maybe a specific event has left you angry and in doubt. For many couples, getting back on track feels so overwhelming that they don't know where to start, and so they do nothing. Meanwhile, their unease continues to grow. Want to take some small, immediate steps to improve your interactions and connection? Or even bank some relationship good will to help you better weather the next rough patch? Read on for 7 things you can do today.

1. Show Appreciation

In the throes of day-to-day home life with our partners, things like saying "thank you" can start to seem redundant or unnecessary. We are so bogged down by the little things needed to keep the household going that it can feel like treading water, and we may start to acknowledge only when our partner has done something wrong, rather than right. Couples that feel like two ships passing in the night because of busy work or child-care schedules may gradually stop bothering to express simple gratitude in order to be more efficient — after all, there are so many other matters at hand. But recognizing specific things that your partner has done, big and small, can help stave off resentment or the feeling of being unappreciated or taken for granted — all of which are notorious relationship-killers. A simple "Hey, thanks for taking out the trash," or, "I really appreciate your pouring my coffee in the morning. I never tell you that, but it makes me feel loved each day" can give a nice jolt of warm feeling to both of you.

2. Get Vulnerable

One of the main things that separates your relationship with your significant other from the one you have with your FedEx delivery person (unless they are the same person, of course) is emotional intimacy. For the vast majority of us, the reason we paired off in the first place is that we wanted to be particularly close with one person in a way other relationships can't rival. Solid emotional intimacy can be the difference between a fight turning into a lasting breech versus having it blow over without ill effects. It can be the deciding factor of whether you're just going through the motions with someone versus feeling like they're the best friend you look forward to talking to at the end of each day. And one of the best ways to develop — or redevelop — emotional intimacy is to trust someone with your vulnerabilities: Is there something scary, embarrassing, or sad on your mind, but you're hesitant to share? Ask yourself why not, and then see what happens if you can make yourself vulnerable enough to trust your partner with it.

3. Make Plans

One reasons why experiences tend to be better gifts than material items is that if you are planning an event or a vacation, you get to enjoy the anticipation that builds up to it—and you get to relive the memories afterward. This added bang for your buck brings extra joy and excitement in a way that few consumer items can. Perhaps financial troubles have made vacation-planning a sore subject or even an impossibility; consider planning an experience that won't break the bank, like a hike to a picturesque place or a trip to the restaurant where you had your first date, and watch it give you something to look forward to that breaks the drudgery. Even if you both were to just take a few hours off from work to cut out early and cook dinner together and watch Netflix, that gives you something to anticipate that's better than the typical routine. These little moments of anticipation — and memories of past experiences — can make a big difference over time. 

4. Put Down the Screens

You've heard it before: Nothing kills conversational connection like someone absentmindedly "Mm hmmm"-ing while they scroll through their phone, staring at a screens and offering facial expressions that have more to do with what they are reading and typing than what they are hearing from you. I get it; it is not 1995. Screens are entrenched, and we carry them everywhere. But the act of putting your phone to the side and silencing it is a definitive statement that signals to your partner that you are open to listening to whatever they want to say — that not only do you want to hear it, but it, and they, are important to you. Putting your screens aside allows you to attune to your partner's body language in a non-distracted way, which helps you mirror each other and feel more in sync. It gives you the mental space to focus in on details and ask questions about their day. Whether it's just for 20 minutes at dinner, for a 10-minute bedtime conversation, or for an entire evening after a certain time, dare to put your screen aside and make eye contact if you want to instantaneously remove an all-too-common barrier to emotional intimacy.

5. Get Your Heart Rate Up

From a simple jog around the park to skydiving, we know that attraction tends to increase when you share the experience of elevating your heart rate with someone, and no, that's not just in sexual situations. Use this to your advantage by doing something that not only may make you more attracted—and attractive—to your partner, but might help you further get in shape or expand your horizons. Why not replace joint couch-surfing with a walk around the block a couple of times per week? Why not go dancing, like you did years ago? Perhaps you can even be so bold as to start a workout routine together, or do something daring like rock-climbing or bungee-jumping. Your bond — and your endorphins — will thank you.

6. Make Physical Contact

One of the first things to go in a disconnected couple are day-to-day physical signs of affection. They can often seem automatic or perfunctory, but they do mean something — as does their absence. Greeting your partner with a kiss or giving a good-night hug can help connect you in important ways. Spending time snuggling on a couch while watching television can increase your oxytocin levels, which have major implications in helping to increase empathy and generosity between you and your partner and strengthening your long-term bond. Don't think it matters that you've stopped bothering to kiss your partner goodbye before a long day at work? Haven't held hands or laid your head on his or her shoulder in a while? Try introducing it back into your relationship, and see if it makes a difference.

7. Give a Compliment

It's often the little things that make a strong relationship. Unfortunately, the little things are also the easiest to let go of. When's the last time you said something complimentary to your partner, about anything? Do you make an effort to regularly point out traits that you admire, or reasons that he or she makes you happy? Have they been doing something particularly impressive lately, even if it doesn't necessarily benefit you? It's amazing what a mood boost a genuine and uncoerced compliment can be, when it's not meant as leverage for a favor but a true and spontaneous expression of affection. You love this person. Tell them why every once in a while, and it will make you both feel good.

For more discussion on mental health and relationships, join my Facebook Community or write to Baggage Check, my longtime mental health advice column.

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