As parents, my husband and I spend our days taking turns dealing with the emotional tempests of a toddler, coaching the bigger kids to resolve their latest kerfuffle, and executing on a bedtime “routine” that involves the kids getting out of bed 72 billion times every night.
Not to mention the never-ending cycle of figuring out what to feed the kids, convincing them to sit down long enough to eat, and getting everything cleaned up before we have to start all over at the next meal.
In the midst of all that, we barely have time for a single uninterrupted grown-up conversation, let alone to make sure we stay connected as a couple. So it’s all too easy to lose sight of how lucky we are to have each other.
But I know we can’t let that happen. In our former lives, my husband and I have both been through divorce. We know the consequences of not making time to connect as a couple – and we’re fierce in our resolve to keep our relationship strong.
Bonus: As a bonus for joining my weekly newsletter, get a free cheat sheet of 60 simple ideas for how to connect with your partner right now.
The Problem With Date Nights
Unfortunately, my husband and I don’t do date nights very often. Because with no family in town, “date night” becomes synonymous with “hire a babysitter,” and that can get awfully expensive.
You can always do an at-home date night – even if it’s just trying out a new recipe or enjoying a movie after the kids go to bed.
We’re too tired.
After spending every day wrangling four kids and trying to keep up with the endless dishes and laundry and vacuuming, we consider it a success if we both manage to stay awake past 8:00 pm.
So how do you keep the spark alive without an official date night?
How to Connect With Your Partner: 7 Ways to Rekindle the Romance in 7 Minutes or Less
To keep our marriage strong, I decided to research the best science-backed hacks for how to connect with your partner – even when you’re tired and busy – and I compiled it into a list to share with you.
The best part? Every idea in this list will take you 7 minutes or less.
1. Give It 6 Seconds
I’ve heard this advice from several happy couples, and it works for me and Ty too.
Hug and kiss every morning and every night. But make sure they’re long ones, especially the hug.
According to The Happiness Project†, you should hold a hug for at least six seconds to get the happy chemicals oxytocin and serotonin flowing. They’re good stuff because they boost your mood and promote bonding. Ever since we tried this hugging technique, I now fully support to the six-second advice.
When you get caught up in the day-to-day routine, it’s too easy to make it through a whole day (or more) without sharing that simple physical affection that keeps partners feeling close. Don’t skimp on this one.
2. Get Visual
If you’re feeling disconnected from your partner, look back through your photos on your phone to remind yourself of your favorite memories of being together – trips, holiday celebrations, those four hundred pictures you took the day you closed on your first house.
These are times when you felt most connected, and reliving those memories can help you rekindle that spark.
After you find a photo that makes you smile, text it to your partner.
3. Ask the Right Question
Research shows that couples who have engaging conversations every day – real uninterrupted grown-up conversations – are better able to handle the stress of parenting life and stay connected.
But when you’re tired, it’s hard to come up with ideas for what to talk about aside from what you need at the grocery store and who’s due for their annual well-check.
So I set out on a quest to find out which conversation topics for couples will make you feel closer, according to the latest research on happy relationships that stand the test of time. And over the course of several months, I compiled a collection of the 150 best conversation starters for couples. Not according to me, some random mom. But according to the experts who study successful and happy relationships.
My husband and I have been using these questions for couples throughout the last couple years, ever since our youngest was born. Anytime we want to connect quickly, we’ll grab a question and ask it. Instant connection, every time.
The questions force us to slow down, look each other in the eye, and really listen to each other.
Sure, sometimes we have to kick the kids outside or sneak away to the bedroom for a few minutes just to have a chance of being able to hear each other’s answers.
But that’s a small price to pay for keeping our relationship healthy and strong.
4. Check It At the Door
When I’m driving home after an appointment, my mind wanders back through my day and tends to get stuck on the things that didn’t go so well.
So when I walk in the door and see Ty, it feels natural to transition straight from a quick greeting to venting about my day.
But this doesn’t make for a good start to your evening together. From the book Wellbeing:
Emotions spread quickly from one person to the next. When you see a friend who is happy, this often causes you to smile, and as a result, you feel better. Or if you have a frustrating meeting late in the day, your emotional state is likely to transfer to your spouse when you get home. Because we tend to synchronize our moods with the people around us, our emotions influence one another throughout the day.
Before you walk in the door at the end of the day (or before your partner walks in the door), take five minutes to think about something good that happened to you. If nothing good happened to you, think of something you love about your partner so that’s on your mind when you see them.
Then after you get the evening off to a good start with a positive perspective for both of you, you can circle back and vent about the not-so-great stuff.
5. Do It With Words
Ty and I text each other constantly about how our day is going – How was your meeting this morning? What time are you heading home? Would it be bad to have pizza for dinner 5 nights in a row? But sometimes he’ll surprise me with a special message out of the blue. He tells me he misses me or that he can’t wait to see me, or just sends a simple “I love you.”
One day back when I had a corporate desk job, my cube neighbor and I were walking to a meeting when she got a text from her husband thanking her for everything she does for their family. Even though it was YEARS ago, I still remember the look on her face – an infectious mixture of surprise, joy, validation, and love. That text totally made her day.
Research shows that in strong, loving relationships that stand the test of time, the partners share more positive statements than critical ones. In fact, you need a ratio of at least five positive comments to every critical one.
If texts aren’t your thing, here are a few other ideas for sharing what you appreciate about your partner:
- Send a funny e-card.
- Stick a colorful Post-It Note somewhere they’re sure to see it, like on their nightstand, on their pillow, in their underwear drawer, next to their toothbrush, and so on.
- Write a message on the bathroom mirror with washable window markers.
- Write a letter, then leave it in their work bag or car to find later.
- Fill out a postcard and mail it to them.
6. Get Some New Material
Research by psychologist John Gottman has shown that sharing humor with your partner is one of the best ways you can strengthen your relationship.
Learn a new joke, find a funny news story online, or make a mental note to share something from your day that made you laugh. If you’re short on time for looking around, do what I do: check a funny person’s Twitter account for good one-liners. My faves:
- Abby Heugel @AbbyHasIssues
- James Breakwell @XplodingUnicorn
- Ramblin Mama @ramblinma
- Simon Holland @simoncholland
- Stephen Colbert @StephenAtHome
We’ve made a promise to each other. We always try to go to bed at the same time.
Sometimes it’s hard to drag myself away from a marathon binge of Brooklyn Nine Nine reruns, but I’m always glad after I do.
Because when you turn off the lights and climb into bed next to each other, magic happens.
With no distractions, your body and mind start to unwind from the day. You’ll remember something cute one of the kids said earlier in the day, whisper your hopes for tomorrow, fantasize about your next vacation. Or maybe you’ll both just take a deep breath and pass out from sheer exhaustion.
(By the way, if you thought I was talking about a different kind of “magic,” try going to bed naked. Ahem.)
Get Your Free Cheat Sheet
When you need ideas for how to connect with your partner even when you’re busy and tired, use this cheat sheet of 60 simple ways to reconnect.
- Get the free cheat sheet. Join my weekly-ish newsletter and as a bonus, you’ll get the printable! Just click here to get it and subscribe.
- Print. Any paper will do the trick, but card stock would be ideal.
- Tuck your cheat sheet somewhere handy like your purse or wallet. Or if your spouse is in on it, hang it on your fridge. Then when you need an idea for connecting, pick a random idea and do it.
Here’s a sneak peek of your printable cheat sheet:
What’s your best advice for how to connect with your partner, even when you’re busy and tired? Share your tip in a comment below!