How to Nurture the Garden of your Relationship

The little things we do during our days/weeks can become rituals and can build to have a huge impact on our relationships.

It is officially August, and with this month comes the new school year. You’re likely getting the kiddos ready with school supplies, clothes - because they grow like weeds! -, and attempting to return to your regularly scheduled routine. It feels like a full year already and we’ve still got four months to go… And we all know these next four months feel even more chaotic! It’s like a snowball effect of busyness that can be hard to keep up with, let alone focusing on other daily life things of which we can tend to lose sight. So here’s to spotlighting the relationship with our life partner.

As you and your teammate run amuck to keep up with those precious dandelions of yours and their sports, recitals, plays, parent-teacher conferences, homework, etc., we’re here to share some helpful reminders for things to nurture in the garden of your relationship. To those of you reading who might not have dandelions impacting your garden, don’t stop reading yet! You may have some ChiaPets or other weeds pulling at your attention. Gather those spades and gloves and dig into nurturing the garden of your relationship.

If you’ve been keeping up with our monthly posts [INSERT HYPERLINK], you’ll be familiar with The Gottman Institute (TGI) and John and Julie Gottman. In their 40+ years of research, they have been monumental in  discovering how to help relationships become healthier and thrive with long-lasting changes. A few of their recommendations that we’ll cover in this month’s post include enhancing the friendship between you and your partner and creating shared meaning. Thankfully, there are simple and easy ways to accomplish these goals so it doesn’t have to be any added stress to your already chaotic lives. 

One way to enhance the friendship in your relationship is by building what TGI calls Love Maps. You can easily build Love Maps by engaging in open ended questions with your partner. The intent is to know the inner world of your partner and the little things about their life. TGI describes these as maps because you are allocating cognitive space specifically to your partner. Nurturing your relationship in this way helps you to be “far better prepared to cope with stressful events and conflict (Lisitsa, n.d.). The key to asking open ended questions is to be gentle and have fun! Start by asking your partner’s favorite colors, hobbies, flowers, food, vacation spots; ask about their life dreams, what they want to accomplish; ask about their fears, worries, what’s stressing them; ask about their childhood, those they admire, and those with whom they have struggles. Be curious about one another!

In our last post [INSERT HYPERLINK], we covered what it means to share fondness & admiration so hop on over there for a quick refresher on this simple way to enhance the friendship in your relationship while we address turning towards our partners here. Have you playfully commented on something and directed it towards your partner? If so, what you did was attempt to make an emotional connection, a bid, with your partner. This is another way to enhance the friendship in your relationship.  TGI encourages couples to attune to one another through these bids and by turning towards one another. Whether they are small or large bids, light in nature or serious,  they are a request for connection. Bids can be verbal or nonverbal so they require us to create space to notice and be aware of our partner. According to TGI, “relationships are built and maintained with daily attention, not grand gestures,” so the romantic date nights won’t suffice alone (Ury, n.d.). Create attunement with your partner by making your own bids and responding positively to their bids. This might look like responding to deep sighs as your partner comes home from work by asking about their day because it seems like it was stressful or something as minute as responding to a request to grab something while you’re headed into the kitchen. Be connected with one another!

Turning towards bids are small moments that have big impacts on relationships, rituals can also help couples create these moments of shared meaning by connecting through intentional time together. Since our focus right now is on smaller, easier ways to do this, we’ll leave the big grand rituals for another time. Let’s assume you and your partner kiss daily. Perhaps as you depart and maybe upon your return home? If not, start and apply the following suggestion! (Alternative: if that’s not your jam, think of other more comfortable forms of physical touch to replace kissing in the following example. Sharing hugs, holding hands, or gentle caresses are a few to help you start brainstorming.) If you do, try extending your kiss to more than a quick smooch. TGI recommends at least a six second kiss to build intentional emotional and physical connection with your partner (Rusnak, n.d.). Other rituals might look like:

1) asking about what’s going on in your partner’s day before heading out

2) checking in after returning from work

*bonus points: remember details from #1 to follow up on

3) working out together

4) going for walks together

5) making dinner together 

6) cleaning the kitchen together after dinner

7) getting ready for work together

8) getting ready for bed together

Hopefully it is becoming obvious that the little things we do during our days/weeks can become rituals if we allow them. Although it might be a little difficult with those dandelions, having weekly date nights (at home or out-and-about) can also be impactful. Whether daily or weekly, the great thing about rituals is that they can be whatever and whenever you choose, but the goal is to create small, intentional moments of time together that will nurture your garden. 

Gather up your gardening tools and let these snippets help you feel more equipped to cultivate and nurture the garden of your relationship as life becomes (or already is!) chaotic. As you move through time together, allow the gardening checklist to be a gentle reminder for you and your partner to focus on the small things we tend to forget about in our relationships. If you would like to dig deeper into the garden of your relationship and find more ways to cultivate and nurture it, reach out to one of our therapists in your area today. We have several Gottman Trained therapists who can help you incorporate the techniques and more from this research-based approach to help you work towards a healthier, thriving, long-lasting relationship.

Lisitsa, E. (n.d.). The Sound Relationship House: Build Love Maps. In The Gottman Institute A Research-Based Approach To Relationships. Retrieved from


Rusnak, K. (n.d.). The six second kiss. In The Gottman Institute A Research-Based Approach to Relationships. Retrieved from


Ury, L. (n.d.). Want to improve your relationship? Start paying more attention to bids. In The Gottman Institute A Research-Based Approach To Relationships. Retrieved from