While I’m certainly no relationship expert, what I have learned over the last 13 years with my husband is that it is almost always beneficial to turn toward, lean in, or make the first move in a long term relationship. Relationship researcher and expert John Gottman, says it best:
“Trust is built in very small moments, which I call ‘sliding door’ moments. In any interaction, there is a possibility of connecting with your partner or turning away from your partner. One such moment is not important, but if you’re always choosing to turn away, then trust erodes in a relationship, very gradually, very slowly.”
Of course, no marriage is perfect and life, especially with kids, makes it challenging to take advantage of every “sliding door” moment. But as a parent with young kids, I feel like these are the times when we need our partner to see us the most. I show up in my marriage best when I’m the most aware of these moments, and I absolutely feel loved when my husband does the same. It takes a certain awareness to step outside of ourselves and truly look in the direction of our partner and see what they want, need, or strongly desire and to equally let ourselves be seen in the same light, no matter how big or small the interaction is.
What I learned after sharing this concept with a handful of my closest friends and family members is that while the idea of making the first move seems to apply to one side of the relationship at a time, this behavior is truly beneficial when both parties are willing. When two people are fully committed to taking care of each other in every way, we can catch more of the sliding door moments as they happen. For the folks I talked to, when these interactions occur and they open themselves up to vulnerability, tremendous trust is built. On the other hand, when these interactions are missed time and time again, resentment and lack of trust begins to build.
And the research backs it up. Gottman conducted a study where he followed newlyweds for six years after they said “I do.” Those who were still married reported turning toward one another 86% of the time. Those who had divorced reported turning toward one another just 33% of the time.
So how do you turn toward your partner when admittedly, in the moment, it might be easier to look the other way?
If you don’t know how to make the first move in a relationship don’t stress. Between my own experience and what I learned from my friends and family, here are 10 simple ways to make the first move in your relationship consistently (and be happier!).
1. Get up first and make the coffee. Starting your day with something thoughtful, even when it seems simple and may benefit you as well, sets the tone for the day.
2. Have one, small, connected moment before your day begins. Our days are busy and it’s easy to act like a couple of roommates as you’re rushing through your morning routine. Say the words, “good morning”, start the day with a kiss or hug or anything small that says, “I see you, I love you!”.
3. Pay attention to the details when you’re communicating throughout the day. Active listening goes a long way and it’s just as important to be heard as it is to be seen.
4. Do one special thing every day that’s just for them. Grab them something at the grocery store, send them an article you think they might enjoy, do something out of the ordinary to show your appreciation for them.
5. Don’t be afraid to initiate sex. Sometimes the worst sex ruts we get in are when both parties are afraid to make the first move. Every relationship is different and while it takes a lot of courage to put yourself out there. From my experience, it’s always worth it.
6. If you don’t know what they need, ask. It’s one thing to be a mind reader (and kudos to you if you are), but I find it particularly thoughtful when my husband simply asks me, “What can I do to make your day easier?” or “What do you need most today?”. I also feel great when I can deliver on what he needs. It’s simple and I think it’s easy to forget to just ask if you don’t know!
7. Practice undivided attention (put your phone away). Maybe this is a practice you have put in place already, but I have my phone set to downtime each night at 10 pm. This disables access to apps and most notifications. Not only do I enjoy the break from screens for myself but it gives us the chance to connect before bed too.
8. Refill their water, or coffee, or wine, or anything, without asking. Something simple, but kind that we should probably be doing for everyone around us all of the time.
9. Have the uncomfortable conversation. Don’t ignore your spouse’s obvious emotions. If there is something that upsets them during their workday, between the two of you or elsewhere, make it clear that you are ready to talk when they are.
10. Let them take care of you. Opening the door to let others care for us is sometimes harder than caring for people on your own, but it’s an act of love in itself to let someone truly be there for you.
I would love to know what works for you guys and how you make efforts to put your partner first each day, make the sometimes uncomfortable first move, and how you lean into those sliding door moments instead of turning away?
images courtesy of the author, Hailey Andresen
This post was originally published on September 4, 2020, and has since been updated.