5 Speedy Minutes to a Better Marriage

What’s the one thing any couple needs to make their marriage stronger and more romantic? If you’re like most people surveyed recently, you’d say time together—and lots of it.

But that isn’t so, says marriage researcher John Gottman, Ph.D., author of The Seven Principles of Making Marriage Work. In a recent study of couples, he discovered that the ones who’d turned their marriages around and felt really close now hadn’t made any big changes like devoting entire evenings or weekends to being together. Instead, they’d simply started spending five-minute blocks of time together in rewarding ways. And you can follow their lead to improve your marriage, he says. Here are some examples:

Cuddle at the most important time of the day. "Most couples fit their cuddles in at the end of the day", says psychologist Judith Sherven, Ph.D. co-author of The New Intimacy, "but cuddling in the morning is even more rewarding." Why? "The physical contact will keep you feeling close to each other all day," she says. So go ahead and set the alarm five minutes early, then snuggle. "You can talk, but you don’t have to," she says. "The most important part is that you’re holding each other. It’ll help you both start the day feeling loved, and you’ll feel that way all day long."

Ask each other one simple question before you head out the door. What is it? "Anything special going on today? Gottman discovered that talking about the daily details of our lives is just as important to couples as sharing hopes, dreams and fears with each other. "The nitty-gritty details determine a lot of how we act and feel on any given day, so asking about them is a great way to build understanding and rapport," Gottman explains. Then, when you’re together again at the end of the day, ask how that special something—that meeting, phone call to an important client or lunch with a friend went. The results? You’ll feel connected, Gottman says.

Share what you like about each other. When a conversation about cars sprang up at a gathering with friends, Mary Gilman gave her husband credit for making their old clunker last with his TLC. "He looked so happy, I realized I should tell him more often how much I appreciate the things he does," says the 32-year-old sales representative from Tustin, California. "I didn’t think I had to tell him. I assumed he knew how much I appreciate him." The moral? If there’s something you appreciate about your spouse, from his parenting skills to the way he painted the garage last month, speak up! This proved so important to the couples Gottman studied that he recommends sprinkling five minutes of praise throughout each other’s day.

If you start, he promises, you’ll enjoy the same treatment from your husband. How does praise work? "It reminds people that their spouse loves them," Gottman explains. And knowing they’re loved "makes people more willing to iron out differences".

Do small kindnesses for each other. The good we do for our partner tends to come back to us, says relationship expert James Sniechowski, Ph.D., Sherven’s co-author. "When you’re thoughtful to someone, they’re inclined to be thoughtful in return," he explains. "And those acts of kindness make for a loving feeling between two people". So pick up each other’s favorite dessert or clip articles you think your spouse might like. "The amount of love those small kindnesses will bring you is without limit," Sniechowski says.

The more five-minute connections you’re able to make, the better, says Gottman. Why? "Because the more good connections you make, the more money you’ll have in your joint emotional bank account, and the richer your relationship will be." But even just one five-minute connection a day can make for a happier marriage. So go ahead and spend five minutes on building a great marriage.