- Alexandra Solomon, PhD, licensed clinical psychologist at The Family Institute at Northwestern University
- Grace Harry, a joy strategist, philanthropist, creative director, and life coach who believes “joy is your birthright”
- Melissa Divaris Thompson, LMFT, licensed marriage and family therapist
- Michelle Wax, dating coach
In addition to cultivating closeness and a deeper sense of intimacy, relationship therapist Melissa Divaris Thompson, LMFT, says mutual joy in a relationship “also builds a couple’s resilience by giving them something positive to refer back to, which allows them to work together more easily through harder moments,” she says.
“Sharing joy builds a couple’s resilience.” —relationship therapist Melissa Divaris Thompson, LMFT
But despite the benefits of sustained joy, it's not so easy to keep up. Natural joy in the beginning of a relationship is largely rooted in the situation's novelty, and over time, routine and familiarity can be, well, killjoys. “As soon as we know something well and can analyze it in our brain, that quells the experience of it,” says joy strategist Grace Harry. “We begin to discount our partners like we often discount ourselves.” But simply focusing anew on an aspect of your partner that you’ve always liked can re-spark a moment of joy. “It brings you back to that very first voice that attracted you to them,” she says.
To that end, many of the best practices for enlivening any romantic relationship with more joy return you to this positive mindset of renewal and rediscovery. Below, experts walk through their tried-and-true techniques for filling up on joy, together with your partner.
7 ways to spark more joy in a romantic relationship, according to joy and relationship experts
1. Build up your personal reservoir of joy
Just like you can’t fully love someone else until you love yourself, it’s tough to find joy with another person if you don’t know how to experience it solo. And when both folks in a relationship can experience joy on their own, they can drop the unrealistic expectations they might've had of getting joy solely from each other. To that end, Harry suggests focusing on yourself first. “We tend to wake up in the morning and immediately start othering, like, ‘What’s happening with my boss or my phone or my kid?’ But then we’re not the star of our own show,” she says. “Instead, make yourself your practice, and make your singleness your superpower.”
That doesn’t mean to ignore your partner, but more so to prioritize your own joy practices and to find one thing—whether it’s a song, a memory, a dance, or something else entirely—that “reminds you of the juiciest part of who you are,” says Harry. When you’re feeling detached from joy, you can call upon it to bring you back to you. “That’s the person who’s going to be in a good place to experience joy within the relationship, too,” says Harry.
2. Commit to one specific, recurring shared experience
As a couple, start by finding your common joyful ground. “Ask yourselves, ‘When have you felt in sync, alive, connected, intimate, and lighter with each other?’ These are all signs of being in a joyful state together,” says Thompson. Perhaps it was watching a funny movie or taking a walk or going to a performance together. Once you come up with a few things, Harry suggests picking one of them and scheduling it as a recurring nonnegotiable in your calendars.
“When couples have something they do together that they know they can count on—for example, every Sunday afternoon, we go on a hike—it takes a lot of the weight off,” says Harry. “It doesn’t have to be once a week; it could be once a month, but whatever it is, it’s an unbreakable agreement.”
This ensures that no matter what comes up in life, the two of you will have a shared positive experience on the books. “That allows you to experience compersion, which is the feeling of delighting in someone else’s delight, or experiencing joy by witnessing someone else’s joy,” says clinical psychologist Alexandra Solomon, PhD, expert at emotional-wellness app Mine’d.
3. Don’t push each other to enjoy the same things
If there were an asterisk on this one, it would read, "if you know that they really dislike the thing." That is, you can certainly suggest that your partner join your yoga class or watch a particular show with you, and there’s always a chance they’ll be into it, too, and as a result, you'll experience a happy moment of shared joy. But—and it’s a big but—if you know they’re dreading every second of it, you’d bring more joy into your relationship by just leaving them out of it. “Having things that bring you joy on your own is just as important as having things together,” says happiness expert Michelle Wax, founder of American Happiness Project, a company that offers digital programming for corporations and individuals to facilitate happiness.
“Having things that bring you joy on your own is just as important as having things together.” —Michelle Wax, happiness expert
And, in fact, when each of you have that alone time to explore your individual interests and passions, you’re more likely to return to your couple time feeling enlivened and rejuvenated, says Dr. Solomon.
4. Communicate openly
While lack of communication is the often-cited root cause of many partnership issues, it’s also a big robber of joy in a romantic relationship, says Harry. Not saying what you have to say when you have to say it just breeds resentment, which keeps you from being fully present. “I always tell couples, ‘There should be nothing that gets said in your head that doesn’t come out,’” says Harry, “because intimacy is actually just communication.”
And that doesn’t just go for the things that are tough to say, either. “If your partner does something or shares something that makes you feel happy, tell them,” says Wax. “We aren’t mind readers, and many people don’t pick up on subtle hints that seem obvious to the other person.”
5. Actively plan things together
If you’ve ever plotted out an exciting vacation weeks or even months in advance, you know the power of anticipating a good thing to spark joy. Planning something together with your partner just means you’ll get to share that joy, says Wax. “It could be as simple as planning out what meal you’ll make for dinner tonight or as big as planning that dream trip to a new place you’ve both been wanting to visit,” she says. “Either way, by creating excitement and joy in anticipation of the shared experience, you’ll amplify the experience itself.”
6. Find opportunities to get silly
If laughter is the pinnacle of joy, silliness is the surest route up there. That’s why Harry always recommends being more silly more often. "I tell my clients, 'Gamify everything,'" she says. But, to be clear, that doesn’t necessarily mean having an actual game night or adding any particular activity to your agenda that fits some preconceived concept of ‘fun.’ “Let’s be real, we’re all competitive people, and game night could just as quickly turn into a nightmare for certain folks,” she says. “What I’m saying is to just be sillier with each other throughout the day.”
In particular, tapping into silliness can dissolve any weirdness or tension almost immediately, which is why Harry also recommends it as a tool in any situation that might feel uncomfortable or extra-vulnerable. “Try drawing a silly card or making a dance performance of what you have to say,” Harry suggests. When you use silliness to be expressive, she adds, it gets easier to feel comfortable being yourself.
7. Be totally childlike
There’s nothing like a good old-fashioned pillow fight to knock you out of whatever funk you’re in and get your joy juices flowing, Harry says. “Don’t overthink it,” she says. “Just go into your bedroom, grab a pillow, and hurl it across the room.”
Her other playful suggestion? A tickle session. “My partner is 6’4” and 250 pounds, and when he’s acting like a curmudgeon, I start tickling him, and it always works,” she says, laughing. The idea is just to bring out your naturally joyous self. “I don’t like to call it your inner child because many of us are just frozen in the year that we created our survival pattern or built that public-facing avatar that isn’t really ourselves,” says Harry. “But the person underneath that avatar is fun and funny and silly, and sometimes we just need to be reminded of that.”
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