- Laurel Steinberg, PhD, New York City-based relationship expert and psychotherapist
Here's the good news: Even in the landscape of pandemic life (read: constant togetherness), it's possible to keep the romance alive in your relationship with the help of small romantic gestures. In fact, showing small acts of love has been show to actually lower stress. A recent study published in the journal Pychoneuroendocrinology found that simply holding hands can reduce levels of cortisol, the stress hormone.
Holding hands while, say, watching Netflix on the couch may decrease relationship stress for some couples, specifically those whose love language is that of physical touch. But that's only one solution. Below, relationship expert and clinical psychotherapist Laurel Steinberg, PhD, offers tips that people who identify with all love languages can use to keep their partner from feeling like a roommate or coworker (or, worse, total pest). These small romantic gestures can help to maintain mutual appreciation and love between you and your partner, as well as potentially lower cortisol levels in the process.
Below, find small romantic gestures to keep love levels high and stress levels low in quarantine and beyond, for every love language.
Words of affirmation
Researchers involved with the aforementioned study found that injecting humor into a conversation with a partner was also shown to lower cortisol levels, meaning words are definitely powerful. So, if your partner's love language is words of affirmation, Dr. Steinberg suggests the small romantic gesture of leaving a sweet note somewhere they will find it.
"You can also take advantage of the USPS and mail your partner a love letter," she says. Or, she adds, it could be fun to schedule a lunch "date" together at home and leave a sexy or sweet note on your partner's napkin.
Acts of service
It's easy for clutter to quickly accumulate when you're home all the time. Cooking three meals a day in and of itself can lead to a whole sink full of dishes, and working from home can lead to stacks of documents and papers being scattered across shared spaces. Since research has connected clutter to being a cause stress, it stands to reason that being stuck in a messy home may play a part in a lack of connection you may be feeling to your frustrated partner—especially if their love language is acts of service.
In this event, Dr. Steinberg suggests the small romantic gesture of making "sure your partner's home work environment is clean, organized, and attractive." Another idea? Bringing your partner coffee in bed. What a sweet way to start the day (that won't result in cleaning up stray grounds).
If receiving gifts is your partner's love language, you can still call upon small romantic gestures to appeal to that without spending much, if anything at all. Buying and cooking dinner is one idea, and you could also get crafty with a thoughtful keepsake gift, like a scrapbook. Even if it doesn't turn out exactly like it should, the effort won't go unnoticed.
Even though you may already be spending all your time with your partner, that doesn't mean the time you're spending together is of high quality. "You can watch a show together, play games, go on walks, or participate in other physical activities—including sex," says Dr. Steinberg, regarding ways to ensure your time together is actually meaningful.
She also suggests signing up for online classes together, given that science has shown that new experiences activate the brain’s reward system, flooding it with dopamine and norepinephrine—the same chemicals that romantic love triggers. Because of this, learning something new together can be a meaningful bonding experience.
"Make a conscious effort to be physically demonstrative," Dr. Steinberg says. As the previously mentioned hand-holding study noted, this isn't to suggest you need to be all over each other all day, every day. Rather, says Dr. Steinberg, you could be open to, say, cuddling on the couch at the end of the workday while you watch TV together. After all, that's certainly not something you would do with a roommate or colleague, so it's an inherently intimate romantic gesture.
While all of these small romantic gestures are simple in premise, what's key about each is that they all require a conscious and intentional effort to see out. Relationships do take work, but as the scientific evidence clearly shows, the little things can make a big difference.
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