Truth! This actually holds true whether you are talking about your relationship with a partner or spouse, your relationships with your kids, a relationship with a friend or coworker and even your relationship with yourself.
With a Spouse
It is the small things done often that make the biggest difference in relationships. These small things, are referred to as “bids”, which are really opportunities to pay attention to the small ways in which your partner reaches for you and attempts to connect. When you turn towards your partner in a response to an emotional bid, you are making an investment in your relationship that deepens your relationship in a way that a grandiose gesture never can. These responses to the small everyday bids are the key to connection and satisfaction in marriage. World renowned researcher, John Gottman, PHd, refers to this as emotional bank accounts, where turning towards each other’s bids results in a deposit in the account. On the other hand, turning away from each other’s attempts at connection will result in an withdrawl from the account. After a six year research study on newlyweds, Dr. Gottman discovered that couples who stayed together turned toward each other’s emotional bids 86 percent of the time, while those who went on to divorce turned toward each other’s bids only 33 percent of the time. By turning toward your partner’s emotional bids, you safeguard your relationship against disrepair and deepen the love you share.
This doesn’t only apply to marital relationships but even to relationships with our kids, our friends and ourselves.
With Your Kids
As luck would have it, we live close enough to the elementary school that our kids attend that they do not have a bus and so I have the opportunity to pick them up after school a lot. So, I am there with a lot of parents and have witnessed this interaction too many times to count and I am sure I have been guilty as well. It usually goes like this: the child comes up to the parent waving with anticipation a piece of paper. Once they get to the parent, they begin an animated dialogue about that piece of paper in their hand to suddenly stop and go quiet as their parent has taken the paper and without a glance or with a passing glance put the paper in their bag or just holds it to their side as they rush to get their child home. This crushing moment happens so quickly but it sends a message to the child in their first interaction with their parent, that they aren’t important. Now let’s be honest, time doesn’t always allow you in the moment to engage in a dialogue about each paper your child brings to show you but you can acknowledge that it is important to them and you want to be able to hear about it and then give them a time. “when we get home”, “after dinner”, “after we get out of the middle of the carpool line”. This is still a deposit and then keeping our word and returning to listen when we are capable becomes an additional deposit. You are teaching them that they matter to you and that they are important. This makes deeper and harder conversations much easier to have because you have created the ritual of listening to the small ones. The small things carry more weight than you think.
There is really no one who could say it better than Mother Teresa who simply stated: “Do Small Things With Great Love.” Sometimes when the emotions are so high or the event so large that we don’t know what to do, we simply do nothing. We get lost in intentions of doing something big or waiting to figure out a way that would adequately show how much we really care.
My friend, Liz, just rang the now famous bell having completed her 8th round of chemo today. This is a moment that is absolutely huge and is a glimpse into the strong, determined character she has developed as her body is fighting breast cancer. However, I would say that an even bigger moment was a post that she shared in part after completing her 7th round of chemo. She reflected on what having cancer has taught her and one thing that she learned is that people will show up. She went on to mention the myriad of little things that those that love her have done for her since she was diagnosed ranging from meals, to errands run on her behalf, those who watched her 3 children, prayed, sent gifts, cards, cash, thoughtful check ins and phone calls. With her permission, I will share a few quotes: “What may have felt like a small sacrifice to them has made a huge impact on my soul. I am forever changed from the love and care I have been shown.”
Liz went on to give powerful advice she learned from being on the other side as the patient of cancer:
” • show up for the people you love so they know how much you care • check in so they know you haven’t forgotten that life will never be the same • show up but don’t be offended if they can’t answer the door/phone that day • go to the funeral • offer to help in various ways and follow through when you can • sit and listen • drop by just for a hug • send flowers • love on their kids • try to be sensitive about the words you speak • be grateful for your own parents, children and good health • whatever you do, just don’t do nothing. doing the wrong thing is better than not reaching out at all. “
Small and simple acts are more powerful than we realize.
This may seem strange to include ourselves here but there is more power in your relationship with yourself than you realize. In fact, if you don’t take care of yourself, you limit the gift you are and the ability to share that gift with others. There are a million different things you can do for the now well coined phrase, “Self-Care”, so I will not mention them all but I do want to emphasize the simple power of consistent, small actions. Listening to your body–identifying thoughts and feelings— and acknowledging them with a small and simple act— from simply making a circular motion with your shoulders when you are feelings stressed or getting up and taking a drink of water— they are the key to being able to truly progress and to take care of the gift that you are.