Whether you’re still in the midst of quarantine for COVID-19, or you’re in the immediate aftermath of it as your state has begun to open up, at-home tips and tools to help your marriage may have never been more needed. Maybe you and your spouse are simply tired of the same old quarantine routine, as days become indistinguishable from one another. Or maybe all the enforced time together shone a light on a marriage that was already struggling, and it's made you realize how little “quality time” you spent together prior to this pandemic or stirred up old wounds that had been lying dormant. Perhaps the coronavirus has placed incredible financial strain on your family—as it has on so many Americans—and couples therapy, let alone date nights, are no longer financially feasible. Or maybe your marriage is thriving, but you’re always looking for ways to grow, learn, and have fun with your spouse. Whatever the case may be, you can add these convenient and cost-effective tricks to your marriage toolbox.
Date night in
Let’s start simple. If you and your partner have gotten into a rut of doing the same thing every night, spice things up without leaving the house. Wait until the kids go to bed if you have kids, then dress up instead of changing into pajamas. Set candles on the table, and open a bottle of wine if you’d like. If you have a chance to get flowers, maybe set up a centerpiece to make the night feel special (or, ask your husband to present you with flowers!). You can make a fancy dinner beforehand to serve on your “date,” or you can order take-out—whatever is preferable to you two. Sit down at the table across from each other as you would on a date night out, and enjoy dinner together.
While it may sound silly, simply changing the atmosphere and your routine may invigorate you with new thoughts to talk about together. If you are used to focusing on feeding your kids during dinner or rushing to get food for the family ready and dinner done before bedtime, a date night in will provide welcome quality time just between you and your spouse. Even if it’s already just the two of you, taking the time and effort to make the night unique for each other in and of itself is sure to boost your relationship morale (especially for those who value acts of service or quality time as their “love language”—more on that below).
Do something new, together
It is well known in the social psychology world that couples who experience new activities together (as opposed to doing pleasant but familiar activities together) experience higher marital satisfaction. Such research findings—largely thanks to psychology professor and researcher Dr. Arthur Aron and his team—have been replicated and expanded over the last three decades to include dating couples experiencing a spike in relationship satisfaction for the same reason. Think that new activities are off-limits because you’re stuck at home? Think again.
Try a new home workout with your spouse; if neither of you have tried yoga before, find a YouTube video, and have at it. If you aren’t runners, go for a jog together for the first time. If you’ve never been into strength training, there are a wealth of apps with free trials—and you can use canned goods or wine bottles for weights if you don’t have any at home! Give at-home karaoke a whirl—no special equipment or musical talent required. Just search the title of a song followed by “karaoke” on YouTube, and have fun belting it out together.
Order an inexpensive puzzle, board game, or card game to play together if you’re not usually into those kinds of activities. If you don’t consider yourselves bakers, try out a new recipe together (like pretzels or a fancy dessert!)—bonus points if you incorporate the food into your at-home date night. If neither of you has tried your hand at gardening, give it a whirl together. If there’s a DIY home project that needs doing, now’s the time to take care of it, together.
A final note: watching a new movie or TV series together doesn’t count—unless you don’t watch TV at all. A new show or movie would be considered a new version of a routine activity, which doesn’t have the same effect. The point here is to try an activity together that’s completely new (and therefore exciting) to both of you.
Find out your “love languages”
Most people have at least heard of the popular concept of “love languages,” brought into the mainstream by Dr. Gary Chapman’s bestselling book The 5 Love Languages. Dr. Chapman is not a licensed counselor or therapist, and his theory of five love languages did not emerge from clinical research. But it came from his years of experience as a counselor for his Baptist congregation, and the simple concept of love languages makes sense and is used by many couples (including my husband and me), as well as by some couples therapists. The “love languages” refer to five practical ways a person best receives and gives love from and to their spouse; they are: words of affirmation, quality time, physical touch, acts of service, and gifts.
While the book explains each love language in detail, giving examples and the background of how Dr. Chapman discovered it, you could easily imagine ways of showing each love language given their respective names. The more challenging part may be finding out your own and your spouse’s love language, but the book’s website provides a free quiz so that you and your partner can receive your love languages profile. Take the quiz separately, then read through and discuss both of your results together. You each can even make a list of five to ten tangible things the other partner can do to show you love in your top one or two love languages, then give the lists to each other.
Try a relationship app
Famed couples therapist, pioneer researcher of romantic relationships, and New York Times bestselling author Dr. John Gottman offers a completely free smartphone app, “Gottman Card Decks,” with loads of questions, statements, and ideas to benefit your marriage. (I found out about this from my colleague and cousin, Caroline Saia, who is also a marriage and family therapist!) The app was inspired by Gottman’s research-based weekend workshop for couples, so there are a plethora of questions and activities that couples therapists approve and use in sessions. The questions in these card decks intend to start conversations that lead to deeper connection between partners.
Go through the “36 questions to fall in love”
Dr. Arthur Aron, the same researcher who published the findings that doing new activities together increases couples’ relationship satisfaction, also developed with his wife, Dr. Elaine Aron, 36 questions that spark emotional intimacy. While the Arons developed these questions to create a sense of closeness between strangers in a lab setting, discussing these 36 questions with someone you’ve already chosen to spend your life with can certainly lead to further emotional intimacy. The questions range from random topics like, “Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?” to heartfelt ones such as, “What is your most treasured memory?” While you likely know your spouse well, the questions are unique enough that you likely haven’t discussed most of them together.
Watch a movie, discuss these questions
Even if all you and your hubby are up for is continuing the norm of watching a movie on the couch, you’re in luck! One research study showed that watching a romantic movie with your partner and discussing it afterward using a discussion guide was actually more predictive of lasting marriages than doing either of two traditional couples therapy exercises. Simply watch one of the recommended movies with your spouse (at least one of which is likely to be on Netflix!), and spend some time together afterward discussing these corresponding questions. No need to change out of your pajamas!
Whatever the position and circumstances of your marriage at any given time, having some inexpensive and handy tools that you and your spouse can implement at home can only help your relationship. All you really need is to be intentional about making time to use them.