The snow is falling, kids everywhere are building snowmen, and you are balancing between the pleasures and frustrations of plans cancelled. Faced with unexpected inconveniences, schedules to juggle, and snow to shovel, social-psychological evidence suggests you also have before you an opportunity to boost your own relationship happiness.
1. Snow shoveling? Let me! The shoveling has to be done, and embracing this as a chance to either give or be grateful will make the labor some endeavor a labor for love. If you're in good physical shape, why not volunteer to do the shoveling before your partner has a chance to tackle the job or ask you to do it? Prosocial acts within romantic relationships are generous gestures designed to improve the wellbeing or happiness of a partner. When done in the spirit of a gift (not a burden), these types of relationship maintenance behaviors improve relationship satisfaction and stability (Canary, Stafford, & Semic, 2002). If your partner has the shoveling job, you have a different job: expressing your gratitude. Gratitude galvanizes an array of positive relationship emotions and cognitions (Algoe, Gable, & Maisel, 2010).
2. Drink hot chocolate together. Recent research shows that human psychology is connected to the ways in which the physical body is sensitive to temperatures and the environment. Holding a warm cup of coffee, as opposed to a cold beverage, has been shown to induce feelings of closeness (Ijzerman & Semin, 2009). Especially on a cold day, a warm drink can provide psychological relief and feelings of warmth that extend beyond the physical heat induced by the hot beverage itself. This is consistent with evidence suggesting that holding a warm drink predicts more positive judgments about others' personalities (Williams & Bargh, 2009). Hot chocolate may be the perfect relationship-warming solution to a cold day.
3. Let your partner sleep in. An unexpected canceled work day comes with expectations at home, but can also present an opportunity to alleviate an accumulated sleep debt that has an influence, whether indirect or direct, on your romantic relationship. Evidence is accumulating that sleep quality and marital quality, such as harmony and attachment, are associated in potentially important ways (Troxel, Robles, Hall, & Buysse, 2007). While the pathway connecting marital quality and sleep quality is likely bidirectional, relieving sleep deprivation can influence mood. Sleep deprivation has a powerful effect on mood, stronger than on cognitive performance (Pilcher & Huffcutt, 1996). A gift of sleep, given or received, can benefit your partnership.
4. Embrace the snow day adventure. Snow days are rare and unusual days that break up the regularity of a typical week. They come with unknowns (how much snow will we see?) and create an air of spontaneity; why not let this air of spontaneity into your relationship for the day? Couples who experience new and interesting activities together keep the spark alive, growing closer with increased feelings of relationship satisfaction (Aron, Norman, Aon, McKenna, & Heyman, 2000). Using the time to cook something new together, to take a walk in the winter wonderland, to build snowmen with the kids… Fun activities that take you out of the norm and let you play together is a wonderful way to feed the fire of your relationship.
5. Cuddle up. It's snowy and cold outside, and from a social-psychological perspective, given the power of touch, it's the perfect opportunity to cozy-up with a partner in front of a fire or with a good movie on TV. Engaging in non-sexual touch is a powerful bonding tool in romantic relationships. Cuddling is typically viewed as a positive, nurturing behavior, the enjoyment and frequency of which relates to other positive aspects of relationship quality including sexual behavior (van Anders, Edelstein, Wade, & Samples-Steele, 2013). So as the snow is falling and schedules are changing, when you give some time to cuddling, you are actually giving the kind of important attention to your partner that will enhance the quality of your relationship.