A Lot of Little Things (Small Gestures)
When it comes to successful relationships, studies show that grand, romantic gestures can be exciting, but what really holds a relationship together are small gestures of love and affection done frequently.
According to a 2017 study at Penn State in the College of Health and Human Development, Americans feel most loved by kind acts and loving behaviors. Loving words, while appreciated, are not viewed as positively, and controlling behaviors are seen as the least loving actions. “In American culture, it seems that controlling or possessive behaviors are the ones people do not feel loved by,” notes researcher Saeideh Heshmati. “If someone wants to know where you are at all times, or acts controlling, those actions are not loving to us.” Heshmati notes that whether words or actions are perceived as loving can vary from culture to culture. “There’s research showing that in more communal societies, these types of controlling behaviors may be seen as affection. But here in America we don’t see it as loving.”
Dr. John Gottman agrees that small, frequent acts of kindness are key to building strong relationships. In The Relationship Cure, Gottman notes that the small, intentional moments of kindness and connection have more power than isolated, excessive gestures when it comes to creating and sustaining lasting love. Gottman’s research has shown that a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative interactions is needed if the relationship is to stay healthy and fulfilling.
How can this be applied to you and your relationships?
First, look for small moments where you can send a positive message to your partner. This can be something as small as a pat on the back as you pass each other in the kitchen, or holding hands in bed for a few moments after the alarm clock rings and before the day begins. If you know your partner likes a certain food and you prepare it, you can note, “Hey, I know how much you like [fill in the blank], so I made it for you for dinner.” The idea is to take small moments and grab them and give them meaning.
Other acts of kindness can include sending thoughtful or funny texts to your partner during the day, leaving small notes around the car or house where they will be found, or saying something nice about your partner to another while they are in earshot.
Second, when you notice something positive about your partner, tell them. “Your hair looks great today.” “I love that shirt on you.” “Thanks for mowing the lawn; it looks really nice.” “You work so hard for the family. I really appreciate that.” This is the loving version of when you see something, say something.
Finally, remember that relationships are like plants. Just as plants need water and sunlight to thrive, relationships need regular tending, or they wither and die. Look for ways to nurture your relationship. Spending quality time together, carving out time for meaningful conversation and interaction, doing fun things together—these are all ways you can keep your love healthy and satisfying to you both.
Nancy Rosenberg, LMFTA, is a marriage and family therapist who loves helping couples who are struggling remember why they liked each other in the first place. To schedule with Nancy, click here.