Some days you wake up, look at your significant other lying next to you in bed and think, “Ugh.”
It’s not an “I hate your guts” kind of “ugh.” More like an “I’m painfully reminded of every unresolved spat we’ve ever had because we spend all our waking minutes together” kind of “ugh.”
Primarily, it comes from the problem of taking your partner’s good qualities for granted while focusing on whatever it is about them that’s irritating you at the moment. But you don’t have to take drugs or get a lobotomy to fall back in love.
A new study shows that engaging “love regulation” can bolster your romantic feelings — and it actually works. Meaning, we can effectively make ourselves fall more in love with someone — or out of love, for that matter — using seven simple tricks.
1. Making tiny positive changes (like giving your partner a hug before they leave or a kiss when they return).
2. Smiling more (dopamine gets released and the gesture is likely to be infectious).
3. Consciously choosing to think positive thoughts (focus on what you like about your partner).
4. Sparking intimacy (studies show couples are more attracted to one another after sex).
5. Not ruminating on small problems (little resentments cause huge damage).
6. Doing something new together (fresh experiences help couples feel closer).
7. Getting curious. Ask tons of questions, just like you did when you first got together.
I wondered if I could scientifically strengthen my love and appreciation for my husband through such minor quickie changes, but I was also curious to see if these tricks might work for my friends, too. I asked five girlfriends to test these “love regulators” out, and believe it or not, they discovered that you can drastically increase your love for your partner in the same time it takes to start a fight about whose turn it is to do the dishes. Here are the results.
1. Making tiny positive changes. My friend Rachelle Friedman has a continuously positive perspective no matter what. Four weeks before her wedding in 2010, one of her bridesmaids playfully pushed her into the swimming pool, but the landing was such that it left her quadriplegic from the chest down with no finger function for life. Married a year later and now the mother of a beautiful baby girl (thanks to a surrogate who carried her biological child), Rachelle saw immediate effects after testing this important love regulating tactic with her husband.
“We made sure to tell each other ‘I love you’ every time one of us left to go to work,” she says. “Taking an extra minute to always say ‘I love you’ floods me with gratitude and focus on all the good things about my marriage and husband. It really works.”
Total time: 1 minute
2. Smiling more. There’s a story my mom likes to tell about how one of my earliest teachers took her aside and asked if there was something wrong with me. “She just stands there,” the teacher said. “She doesn’t react to anything.”
Needless to say, I was a fairly shell-shocked little kid growing up in a chaotic household — and a blank demeanor was my coping mechanism. But it’s impacted me as an adult, too.
My husband noticed this early in our relationship. “I don’t think you realize the very emotionless expression you have on your face,” he observed. When he would show me pictures he snapped, sure enough, there I was: eyes extra icy, looking like I was preparing for battle. Which is all to say that smiling more for me is especially powerful. To accomplish this, I practiced digging deep into myself to find things I felt were worth smiling about (a beautiful walk around the neighborhood, a delicious meal, a cute new dress), and I found that in busting out more grins, the emotions were quickly mirrored back to me in time I spent with my husband.
Total time: 10-30 seconds
3. Thinking positive thoughts. Like many a neurotic, I catastrophize a lot. If I have a fight with my husband, for example, I’ll stress about every fight I’ve ever had in my life, then catalog every bad choice I’ve ever made. It’s a boatload of fun — especially for others around me. So taking control and effectively forcing myself to think positive thoughts about my relationship was an interesting experiment.
For instance, Pat was out late one night doing three spots at comedy clubs, and when he came home at 1:30 in the morning, instead of feeling annoyed that his work keeps him out all the time, I thought, “I love spending time with my best friend. I love that he never bores me. I love that he’s out in the clubs doing comedy all the time because he’s the funniest person I know.” It was a small shift in thinking, but the difference it made in the remaining hours we were awake was significant. More laughs, more happiness, and more intimacy.
Total time: 1-5 minutes
4. Sparking intimacy. Relationship editor Marianne Garvey explains that she feels loving toward her husband, who she’s been married to for two and a half years, the majority of the time. So to jump-start her love even more she decided to actively work on increasing intimacy. “Instead of being tired or making jokes, I decided to try to be sexy,” she said. “The result? Good sex. And he smells really good. It was a nice way to connect.”
Total time (the sexiness, not the sex): 15 minutes
5. Not ruminating on small problems. My friend Larissa Green admits that when it’s cold outside “Ice Queen Larissa” comes out to play — and wreaks havoc on her relationship with her boyfriend of seven years. To stop focusing on minor issues, “I tried to transform any petty bullshit into positive action or thought processes,” she says. “Instead of getting annoyed over something small, I’d think of a past experience where something inconvenient turned into a fun adventure.”
Total time: 10-15 minutes
6. Doing something new together. My friend Abbi Crutchfield fell in love all over again by exploring side streets with her husband that they’d never been down before. They discovered a favorite new burger joint and had a couple great evenings out. “Exploring our neighborhood together broke us out of the rut of usual topics we cover at dinner,” she said. “It was just like when we started dating, with the added bonus of us already being best friends.”
Total time: 15 minutes
7. Ask questions. Whenever I think about asking Pat more questions, my mind immediately goes to Louis C.K.’s famous “Why?” bit about the kid who won’t stop saying that one three-letter word no matter what answer her dad gives. To the kid’s credit, it really does lead to some fairly brilliant dialogue. Let’s be real: A little childlike curiosity will probably make you feel more in love.
My friend Hitha Herzog tested my theory with her husband of two years. “I asked him a ton of questions one night,” she said. “I loved it because his answers showed wisdom and insight, and his humor got sharper. He always made me laugh.” The final outcome? Increased loving feelings. It’s nice to be right.
Total time: 10-15 minutes
The next time you wake up to an “ugh” kind of day, remember this: Don’t berate, regulate.