If you ask a happy couple why their relationship is good, I’ll bet it’s not because he proposed at the top of the Eiffel Tower with a huge diamond solitaire, or because they had a villa in the Seychelles for their honeymoon. It won’t be because he once filled a hotel room with red roses and left the key to a new pink Mini on her pillow, either, (as one very unhappy client once told me he had done). No, if you ask a happy couple why they get on so well, it’s much more likely to be ‘the little things’ that make the difference.
Clients who are arguing a lot, or who have grown silently apart, want things to change, and they come for counselling because they don’t know where to start. And they are often surprised, and a bit sceptical, when I suggest that they begin by doing small things differently. No one thinks that always kissing their partner (even just on the cheek) as they leave the house can make much of a difference. Couples are puzzled when I suggest they look their partner in the eyes and smile when they arrive home; it takes less than a second to do. It takes two minutes to ask each other how the day has gone, and show you are listening through eye contact, nodding, any facial expression which means that you have heard. Holding hands while watching the tv, sitting on the same sofa, giving each other a kiss before going to sleep, putting the kettle on when your partner comes in tired; tiny things which can seem pointless to a couple who haven’t had sex for three months, but intimacy is about closeness, and it’s the small, caring actions that show we care and bring us back together again.
It’s a great myth that we always have to feel differently before we can behave better towards each other; it works the other way round too. There’s a lot of research evidence that doing positive things, starts to change the way we feel. So smiling, eye contact, and just sitting together help us to feel closer and more sympathetic, and doing small things for each other has the same effect. All the stuff that takes about five minutes, but we get too lazy to do: feeding the dog, taking each other a cup of tea in bed, filling the car up with petrol, pairing the socks rather than leaving them in a heap; small, apparently insignificant actions, none of which takes much physical time, but which show that we are aware of the other’s needs, and that we want to care.
I’ve been talking about how we show our love for each other on a daily basis, but no matter how much we care for each other, couples also need some fun together if they are to stay happy. It doesn’t need to be about grand, romantic gestures, just bringing home a bottle of wine, or a bunch of flowers on a Friday evening, booking a babysitter and getting some tickets to a film, planning a weekend away without the kids; more ‘little things’ really………….