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10 Love Hacks to Give Your Marriage Some Much-Needed TLC

Think of these as tune-ups for your most important relationship.

If you’re a busy working mom married to a busy working dad (or mom), it’s a sad fact that your relationship tends to take a backseat to, well, everything. The kids, your careers, your friends—heck, even your delivery guy—can get more dedicated one-on-one time. Too often we take our spouses for granted.

Not to mention, marriage is just plain hard. Like home renovation, repairing underlying structural problems requires long hours and major work. But you can also give your relationship a little TLC with minor touch-ups—a quick coat of paint, if you will. The love hacks below are just that: simple and easy ways to improve your bond and give your marriage the love it needs to go the distance.

1. Listen up—and respond

The next time your spouse asks you to tune in to his favorite new song, grab an earbud and join in the fun.

Sounds simple, right? But it’s actually a lot harder—and more necessary—than it seems. Remember the last time your partner went off on a long tangent about the latest gaming system? Did you say, “Uh-huh, babe,” and then continue shopping on Amazon? It turns out that responding enthusiastically to these “bids” for attention are super important, according to research by psychologist John Gottman. Couples who divorced after six years only “turned toward” their partner’s bid 33 percent of the time. Couples who were still together turned toward each other 87 percent of the time.

2. Get more sleep

It's not just good for your physical health—it helps heal your marriage too.

If you’ve been looking for an excuse to make shut-eye a priority, here you go: An Ohio State University study found that couples who logged less than seven hours of sleep were more likely to fight in destructive ways, with overt hostility. Couples who managed to get more rest still bickered, but with more humor and kindness.

3. Hold hands

Even when it's hard.

Sure, it seems obvious that affection is good for a marriage, but this one’s important to do even when you’re not feeling it. For a study published in the Personality and Social Psychology Review, couples were asked to either avoid touching, or to touch each other in a “warm, comfortable and positive way” while watching a movie. Afterwards, those who had touched said they were more confident their partner loved them—even when they knew they were being told what to do by the researchers. In other words, the intent didn’t matter—just the touch.

4. Put away your phone

Or you'll end up like this couple.

This one is applicable to all areas of life where your concentration is needed, but it’s especially relevant for married couples. Researchers from the University of Essex asked two people to exchange a personal story of an interesting event that had happened to them in the last month. They found that the mere presence of a phone “inhibited the development of interpersonal closeness and trust and reduced the extent to which individuals felt empathy and understanding from their partners.” We know too much screen time can be detrimental for kids, so it makes sense that too much tech time takes away from our marriage too.

5. Imagine your fight is being moderated by an outside observer

Picture what a therapist would say if she were listening in on your fight.

Eli Finkel, a researcher at Northwestern, literally wrote the book on what makes a marriage work—so it makes sense that one of his most popular pieces of advice also became a hit TED talk. Here’s the gist: Over the period of a year, couples who were asked to think about their disagreements from a third-person perspective—as a neutral party who wants the best for all involved—were more likely to be satisfied in their marriage. So, the next time you’re in the midst of a raging row, Finkel says in a New York Times piece that you should ask yourself, “How might this person think about the disagreement? How might he or she find the good that could come from it?”

6. Jump to good conclusions

Spouse running late? Don't get angry before you get the full story.

Did your partner forget to pick up milk on the way home? Or neglect to answer your third text message? One of the biggest differences between happy and unhappy couples, researchers have found, is how they explain a perceived offense. Unhappy couples attribute the error to a permanent flaw in their partner’s character (i.e. “He’s so forgetful”) while happy couples tend to chalk it up to circumstances (“He’s been so busy at work lately”). A little generous thinking goes a long way.

7. Keep a gratitude journal

Because writing it down is the best way to remember.

Once a week, make a list of all the ways your partner has made a solid contribution to your marriage, and check it twice. In a recent experiment, one group was asked to write down things their partner had done to “invest in the relationship,” while another was asked to list their own efforts. Afterwards, both groups felt a little more committed to their relationship, but the ones who had praised their partners felt significantly more committed, and more grateful for their spouse.

8. Rejoice in your partner’s wins, big or small

A simple, "Good job, sweetie" goes a long way.

The next time your spouse brags about the work presentation he totally nailed, give him a huge high-five and sincere praise. Studies show that sharing small victories with your partner give you a boost beyond just the high from the win itself. And when you “respond actively and constructively,” the benefits are even greater. Couples who cheer each other on, even in the little moments, have a higher relationship well-being.

9. Schedule sex

Let the good times roll.

Penciling in intimacy may seem about as sexy as scheduling a dentist appointment, but when it’s challenging for busy parents to make time to make love, then desperate times call for desperate measures. Simply put, sex is important. One study even concluded sex is the most important aspect of marriage, in terms of contributing to overall satisfaction. So just do it.

10. Make date night a priority

Keep the spark alive.

We get it. Good babysitters are expensive and so are tickets to the movies nowadays. But getting out of the house and having fun together is crucial for the health of your marriage. One study of more than 9,000 mothers found that couples who had a monthly date night were 14 percent less likely to split up over the next 10 years than couples who rarely ventured out. So go forth and frolic (at least once a month), moms!

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