By Dr Katie Stirling 1st January 2023
Imagine for a moment our relationship is like a car. We need fuel for our car to be able to work effectively, the same applies to our
relationship we need fuel in the tank for our relationship to run smoothly. When our relationship tank is low, resentment can build in our
relationship. We may become frustrated more easily, we might start to feel disconnected from our partner or we might find feelings of
loneliness emerge. When our tank is empty we could shift into negative sentiment override and begin focussing on all the negative aspects
of our relationship (read more about negative sentiment override here). So we want to ensure we fuel connection and keep our relationship
tank on the full side.
Our relationship tank can empty because:
1. We are not putting in enough fuel and/or
2. We are using too much fuel
So basically we need to make deposits into our relationship so when things aren’t going well, say we hit a rough patch or something external to our relationship throws us a curve ball, than we have reserves to draw on.
In this blog we will focus on the first part of maintaining fuel in our relationship - how we fuel connection in our relationship by doing
the little things. Sometimes we make the mistake of waiting for the big moments, such as anniversaries or birthdays to take the
opportunity to show our partner how we feel. Likewise, we might get caught over thinking it or assuming we need big grand gestures to
invest in our relationship, when in fact it’s the little things that have the greatest impact on relationships.
In my experience, in couples therapy when couples reflect on what has brought most joy in their relationships, they often talk about the little things. They mention everyday moments - their partner bringing them coffee in bed, a great conversation in the early hours of the morning, watching a beautiful sunset together, or dreaming together. It’s these everyday little moments of connection that fuel their relationship.
It’s important to recognise that disconnection affects all relationships, even when your relationship is doing okay. The stress of daily life, the inescapable challenges that arise in loving a person who is different from you, and working through conflict all adds up.
As Dr. Sue Johnson says: “Love is a constant process of tuning in, connecting, missing and misreading cues, disconnecting, repairing and finding deeper connection. It’s a dance of meeting and parting and finding each other again. Minute-to-minute and day-to-day.”
We actually need to put in a lot more than we take out. In his research with couples, Dr John Gottman identified that for relationships to stay in positive perspective we need 20 positive interactions for 1 negative.
It sounds like a lot but when you realise there are a lot of little things we can do it’s easily achieved.
Some examples of little things you can do in your relationship include:
1. Giving your partner a compliment
2. Expressing appreciation
3. Saying please and thank you
4. Listening to your partner
5. Showing genuine interest in your partner’s experiences
6. Showing physical affection
7. Being present with your partner- giving them your undivided attention
One of the exercises I do with couples in relationship counselling is to make a jar of little things. Grab a pen, some paper and 2 jars or containers and sit down with your partner. Tear your paper into lots of little pieces and then on each little piece write one little thing you would enjoy your partner doing to fill your relationship tank.
Then fold the little pieces of paper and put them in a jar or any container you have available. Every day grab one piece of paper out of the jar and do that little thing for your partner. You could do it every day for the next month.
Investing in your relationship by doing the little things always is a great way to future proof your relationship.