We’ve all seen the crazy passionate declarations of love in movies à la When Harry Met Sally, but (luckily!) healthy relationships aren’t all about fiery monologues. So how do strong couples communicate IRL? Believe it or not, sometimes the simplest of words can go a much longer way than a bed of rose petals. Collegiettes shared the sweet little things they say to their SOs on the reg, and experts explained why you should totally add these to your #relationshipgoals.
1. “Thank you.”
So maybe you say “thank you” to the cashier who gives you your change or the stranger who holds the door for you. But these words can have so much more meaning when you say them (with real gratitude!) to your SO.
When you’ve been with someone for a while, it’s easy to forget to appreciate the little things you do for each other. “Gratitude and common courtesy often become victims of familiarity,” says Lesli Doares, a licensed marriage and family therapist. “Making the effort to be appreciative shows that you are not taking each other for granted and that you are noticing the positive things your partner does for you.”
Kasia Jaworski, a senior at Villanova University, and her ex-boyfriend were in a relationship for three years. “We would thank each other often,” Kasia says. “I think it’s important to show appreciation in a strong relationship. I would always thank him if he took me out to dinner, or he would shoot me a sweet ‘thank you’ text if I called him when he was having a bad day.”
Being in a committed relationship takes a lot of work, compromise and selflessness, so it’s important that both of you remind yourselves and each other how grateful you are.
That said, it’s normal to get stuck in a rut sometimes and forget how happy you are with your SO, which is why “you have to keep the spark alive,” says Fran Greene, a relationship coach and author of The Flirting Bible. “Once you take each other for granted, it says ‘I don’t care about you,’” she explains. “I think the best relationships treat each other like they did in the early stages of dating.”
2. “I’m proud of you.”
Another perfect way to show your partner your appreciation is to recognize his or her accomplishments. You’re a couple, but above all, you’re two awesome individuals working towards your respective aspirations. Remembering that shows how much you respect each other in all your differences and is a crucial aspect of any relationship.
“Expressing pride in your partner means that you see them as a capable, independent person,” Doares says. “It lets them know that you support them in their goals and achievements and that you notice when they [achieve them].”
Caroline Pirozzolo, a freshman at Ithaca College, and her boyfriend, who are in a long-distance relationship, say “I’m proud of you” to each other all the time. “It’s simple, but it can be nice to feel supported and loved, even when your SO is far away,” Caroline says. Add it to your relationship vocabulary, and you’ll feel much closer every time you say it.
3. “Good morning” and “good night.”
Although it can seem as commonplace as “thank you,” taking the time to let your SO know you’re thinking about him or her when you wake up and go to bed goes a long way. For Doares, it goes even further than that. “How you greet each other in the morning, how you leave each other, what you do when you come back together and how you say good night are four of the most important things you can do to keep your relationship strong,” she says. “Making time to do this is showing that your relationship and connection are a priority.” Yes, even if it’s just a text.
“My boyfriend and I always text each other good morning and good night along with an ‘I love you,’” says Alexandra Blessing, a junior at Millersville University. “It might seem insignificant, but it’s our way of saying we care about one another.”
Just like with “I love you,” you can get super creative with your “good night” texts, using nicknames, emoji, and mentioning all the little things that make your relationship special. Trust us, it’s worth the extra minute out of your day!
4. “We’re a team.”
For a relationship to work, it is so, so crucial for both partners to be equal and respectful of each other. But can you be an item and still pursue your personal goals? Of course! “’Being a team’ doesn’t mean ‘inseparable’ or ‘dependent,’” Doares says. “It means two people working together for common goals. Strong couples make use of each other’s strengths to make their relationship better. They don’t compete with each other as much as they compete for each other.”
Kasia says this mentality played a big role in her relationship. “[My boyfriend and I] would also refer to each other as a ‘team’ or ‘partners,’” she explains. “It implies equality and very high mutual respect.”
Being “in it together” means that you want the same things out of your relationship and are both working towards these goals, but it also means that you support each other’s personal development. It’s all about finding the perfect balance.
5. “You’re amazing.”
Everyone loves compliments, but receiving them from your SO can mean that much more. In Kasia and her ex’s “good night” texts, “[they] made it a point to say what [they] loved about each other specifically – things about [their] personalities, strengths, things like that,” she says.
Although compliments are always appreciated, try to make them about every aspect of your partner. This shows him or her how well-rounded you know he or she is, and how amazing he or she is on so many levels. “Strong couples compliment each other often,” Greene says. “They compliment different dimensions of each other – attractiveness, personality and intelligence. There is no formula for it, but it has to be all of them. A good relationship means that your partner loves you physically, emotionally and mentally.”
In college, we all get a little insecure at times, so “you have to be your partner’s biggest cheerleader, especially in public,” Greene says. “Just be singing their praise.” Show your SO how proud you are of your partner – and mean it!
6. “I feel hurt when…”
Couples fight; this is hardly breaking news. When you’re angry, it can be really difficult to contain your emotions, but yelling is always counterproductive. “When [my boyfriend and I] argue, which is rare, we never yell, because it makes the other person uncomfortable,” says Sarah Beth Kaye, a senior at Rutgers University. “Instead, we say phrases like, ‘I am upset because you are doing XYZ,’ or, ‘I wish you wouldn’t do XYZ because it makes me mad. Here’s why…’ By rationally talking about what makes us annoyed or upset, we have been able to work through any issues we have and find a good compromise.”
Greene thinks that Sarah Beth and her boyfriend’s strategy is ideal, and her advice is to focus on the one thing that’s upsetting you right now (without blaming your SO or putting him or her down) and to offer a specific solution to the problem.
In short, strong couples call each other out when one of them has crossed a line, but each partner tries to pinpoint what it is exactly that’s upsetting them and works towards a solution. This is why starting with “I feel hurt” is a good way to bring up an issue; it takes the blame out of the discussion, instead focusing on how you feel in response to a specific behavior.
7. “I’m here for you.”
Sometimes, things go wrong. It’s in those difficult times that your relationship really gets put to the test. Your partner needs to be your rock, your shoulder to cry on, while also understanding that he or she can’t be your priority right now. It’s easy to be there for someone on happy days, but it’s a different story when things fall apart.
Your partner needs to know that you are there for him or her. “It’s saying that I’m going to stand by you, stick with you even though this is a horrible time for you,” Greene says. “I know that our relationship can’t be the number one priority during this time and I’m going to do the best that I can because I’m invested enough.”
Although we hope nothing bad happens to you or your partner, “sometimes crises make a couple so much stronger,” Greene says. “It’s also a wonderful way for them to see how they deal with adversity. It’s easy to have a relationship when it’s all fun and games.” Having a caring and understanding partner can be the silver lining to an otherwise painful situation.
8. “Have fun!”
You should definitely cherish the time you spend with your SO, but all “strong couples respect each other’s independence,” Greene says. You should take me-time and time with your friends and encourage your partner to do the same. Spend time with each other’s friends as well – be sure to mix it up!
“There’s no formula, but it’s about trusting and respecting that somebody can have a full life,” Greene says. Say things like, “Have a really good time,” “Have fun with your friends!” or, “Hope your night is awesome; I can’t wait to hear about it!”
Let each other have lives outside of your relationship; this will only make you closer!
It can be difficult to express how you’re feeling, especially when you’re sad or angry. Hopefully the things strong couples say to each other will give you an idea of how to build a lasting relationship, whether it’s right now or in the future – #relationshipgoals!