How to Make Everyday Moments Count More in Your Relationship

The little things can have just as much power as the grand gestures.
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The little things can have just as much power as the grand gestures.

These days we get a pretty distorted message from advertisements and movies about what makes passion sizzle in a relationship. It's easy to trick ourselves into thinking that our romantic relationships just need a little adventure or change in scenery to re-ignite the spark, but the truth is all you might need is to take a trip to the grocery store together.

That's right, love and lasting passion is cultivated during the grind of everyday life.

There is profound drama in the micro-moments of love. The time when you and your man have dinner together and talk about your days rather than watch TV in silence. Or when you tenderly touch your husband as you pass each other in the kitchen. It’s the seemingly meaningless little moments of connection that are the most meaningful of all.

In relationships people offer what Dr. John Gottman calls a “bid” for each other’s attention, affection, or support. This can be as insignificant as “please pass the carrots” to something as significant as helping a partner deal with the struggles of an aging parent.

In these moments, we have a choice to turn toward our partner or away from them. If we turn toward, we build trust and emotional connection.

Dr. John Gottman discovered that couples who divorced an average of 6 years after their wedding turned toward each other 33% of the time in his lab, while the couples who were together after 6 years turned toward each other 86% of the time. That’s a big difference.

As loopy as it may sound, the passion of romance is enhanced in the supermarket. To the seemingly insignificant question: “do we need milk?” the reply, “I can’t remember. I’ll grab some just in case,” makes a world of difference rather than apathetically shrugging your shoulders.

The No. 1 thing couples fight about is not money or in-laws or sex. According to Dr. Gottman, most arguments in relationships are about a failure to connect emotionally.

Every time you and your partner turn toward each other, you make a deposit into what Dr. John Gottman calls the Emotional Bank Account. Every connected moment in your relationship builds up a savings of love that can be used during hard times. If a couple has more positive deposits than negative, they are less likely to distrust each other during hard times. 

Here are three steps to reconnect when you feel disconnected from your partner and invest in your Emotional Bank Account:

01. Accept Bids for Connection

Dr. Gottman says that “couples often ignore each other’s emotional needs out of mindlessness, not malice.”

The first step to feeling more connected with your partner is to recognize how vital these micro-moments are. This is important not only for the trust in your marriage, but for romance and intimacy as well.

The simple shift of not taking everyday interactions for granted can do wonders for a marriage. Helping out with work around the house is likely to do far more for your relationship than a two week vacation in Tahiti.

Sometimes we miss bids because our partner says it in a negative way. For example, when you respond to your spouse by saying something like, “it never occurs to you to empty the dishwasher, does it?” Your spouse doesn’t hear your bid (“please unload the dishwasher”). Instead, he hears criticism, the first of the Four Horsemen. It’s not surprising when he replies in a defensive manner.

If your husband responded with, “oh, you’re right. I’m sorry,” and then emptied the dishwasher, he would have scored brownie points and maybe even a sheepish smile from you as you realize your tone was unnecessary.

Before you reply defensively to your partner, pause for a second and look for the bid in their words. If you feel bids are constantly wrapped in criticism in your relationship, I’d recommend reading page 162 in The Seven Principles For Making Marriage Work.

02. Understand Each Other’s Love Map

Often times couples assume their partner feels heard and known. The secret to understanding your partner comes not from mind reading, but rather through the hard work of putting your partner in a position where they can share openly and honestly.

Do you know your partner’s worries and stresses at the moment? What are their hopes and aspirations? What are their goals this year? Are they different from last year?

The key to understanding each other is to:

  • Ask questions.
  • Remember the answers.
  • Keep asking questions.

Getting to know your spouse better and sharing your inner self is a lifelong process. Your partner’s favorite movie might not be the same as it was five years ago.

The better the questions, the larger the emotional investment both of you make. If you want ideas for relationship enhancing questions, go here.

03. Build a Culture of Appreciation and Respect

We all have personality flaws. But instead of focusing on your partner’s inadequacies, learn to accept them.

When you can, express what you cherish about your partner. The idea is to catch your partner doing something right and say, “thanks for doing that. I noticed you unloaded the dishwasher and I really appreciate it.”

Each time you do this, your partner feels emotional connection. As a result, you invest your emotional profits into your relationship’s Emotional Bank Account.

Remember, love is not built on the big vacations or expensive gifts. Often it is the seemingly insignificant moments of connection that are the most significant of all.

This article was originally published on The Gottman Relationship Blog and edited here from its original version. Get your free copy of “7 Signs Your Relationship Will Last” by clicking here.

Photo Credit: Horace and Mae Photography