“Many people think that the secret to reconnecting with their partner is a vacation by the sea. But a romantic outing only turns up the heat if the couple has kept the pilot light burning by staying in touch in the little ways.” – John Gottman
Relationship expert Dr. John Gottman has developed a research based, reality tested system for happy marriages. And one of the most important ways to keep your marriage healthy is this: “focus on the small things.”
As in the quote above, romance will only flourish in your marriage if you keep the fire burning throughout all the many days, weeks, months, and years of your relationship. Spectacular holidays and vacations, romantic dinners in candlelit settings, and expensive gifts fall flat and don’t mean much if the small things are not present in your relationship every day.
Every positive, small, daily interaction with your beloved is an opportunity for you to connect in loving and caring ways. The small positive things in marriage need to be done often. They need to become your communication style as couple.
Words and actions matter
“Thank you,” “I appreciate you,” a quick shoulder and neck massage at the end of a stressful day, a hug or a kiss given “just because,” are all deposits to the emotional bank accounts of happy marriages. Make deposits to your relationship’s emotional bank account each and every day…. several times a day. It may be small, but it’s an investment in your happy marriage.
Look at me and share my joy
“I broke my running record,” “I finished my presentation,” “I got that special bottle of wine we liked so much on vacation last year,” “I picked up your dry cleaning.”
These are bids your partner makes to connect with you. If you love, admire, and appreciate your partner, this is the time to show it – in small ways. Actually, small ways are bigger than you might think.
“I’m so proud of you,” “You put in a lot of time and effort on that presentation. I know you will do a great job,” “I love that wine. Thank you,” “You’re so sweet to think of the dry cleaning pick up. That helped me have one less thing to do today.” A hug and a kiss added to your verbal expressions of gratitude, when possible, will also go a long way to keeping the flame burning in your relationship.
It may be a small moment, but it’s a building block for happy marriages. You and your partner should look for these moments to give to each other in small ways – start to look forward to these moments!
Pay attention to my troubles
“I’m feeling a bit exhausted,” “My co-worker is really getting on my nerves,” “I didn’t sleep very well.”
Life is tough at times. Little stresses and emotional injuries mount up. Your partner needs your compassion and empathy.
Your partner is your first and foremost support system in a sometimes very exhausting and painful world. If your spouse turns away from you in these moments, when you are already feeling down, it will hurt a lot.
Look for opportunities to attune to your partner. Offer physical and emotional support. Be fully present and in-the-moment with your partner. Ask your partner to tell you about the exhaustion, the irritation, or the poor night’s sleep, and what you can do to help in that moment. An exhausted partner would probably welcome time to sit and relax with a beverage you serve, an irritated partner just wants someone to listen (not problem solve or fix the situation), and a sleepy partner may simply want the luxury of going to bed early one night while you take care of evening household duties.
Come play with me
Holding your hand, sneaking a kiss, snuggling on the sofa while watching a movie, dressing up for a special occasion or for no reason at all – these are all ways your partner shows affection and seeks affection in return. Again, in happy marriages, small ways of showing affection matter. When they are noticed, acknowledged, not taken for granted, and, when possible, returned, you are showing your partner how much he or she means to you. When you turn toward your partner in these small moments, you are making sure the flame doesn’t go out.
Can we talk?
Small things are the fabric of connection between couples.
Paying attention to the small things often also helps you notice as early as possible when a conflict may be brewing, and also when and where you disagree.
If you catch that conflict early, you can talk about it and sort it out while it is still manageable and without all the extra baggage that long neglected relationship conflicts tend to acquire.
Happy marriages thrive on small, precise discussions. Voicing a difference of opinion, a concern, or hurt feelings doesn’t mean rejecting your partner or your partner’s bid for attention, compassion, or affection. On the contrary, it means that you take each other seriously and that you try to understand even if you don’t agree.
Talking and paying attention also applies to the romantic side of marriage. Keep the romantic connection going by initiating and responding to small acts of affection and to your own and your partner’s desires as often as you can and want.
A Happy Marriages Mantra
So by all means, go on that special vacation. Take time for date nights and special evenings together.
Play! Have fun together!
But don’t forget that doing small things for your partner on a consistent, daily basis will contribute to a stable foundation for your happy marriage.
Make this your marriage mantra: “Small Things Often = Happy Marriages."