As I looked at the sea of raised hands in the massive auditorium, I couldn’t help but chuckle. It was a Sunday morning service, and as part of his sermon series on relationships, the pastor of this large church had asked me to do a pastoral interview on my research findings about happy couples. He had just turned to the women in the congregation and asked whether a particular little action would be meaningful to them. A thousand hands went up, and we could clearly hear the accompanying sounds of shock from a thousand men.
Then it was the men’s turn, and the women were the ones taken aback when they learned what was important to the men — including, in most cases, the ones sitting right next to them.
So what were the little actions that were so important to these men and women but were so hidden to the opposite sex? Understanding the answer could be one of the most important and simplest keys to having a happy, thriving marriage. It turns out that these actions almost always tell the opposite sex: “I care about you.” And once your spouse truly believes that you care, you’ve created a protective cocoon around your marriage that makes it difficult for other issues to hurt the two of you.
Here are a few of the “little things” that matter in marriage:
Be sure to notice the little day-to-day things your husband does, and say “thank you.” As the results of my survey began rolling in, I was shocked to see that, for a man, hearing “thank you” has the same emotional impact on him as hearing “I love you” does for a woman. Consider saying “Thank you for changing out those light bulbs, honey,” “Thank you for trimming all the bushes even though it was hot outside,” or “Thank you for taking the kids to the park this morning; you’re such a good dad.”
Sincerely say “thank you” several times a day and you’ll be shocked at the difference it makes in your marriage. Even better, say some of those praiseworthy things in front of others — “You know what he did this morning? He took the kids to the park and let me sleep in”
Hold your wife’s hand when you are walking across a parking lot, or put your arm around her when you are sitting together at church. Regardless of what her “love language” might be, those gestures speak because they convey an important message: “You’re mine, and I would choose you all over again.”
Another key action to practice with your wife: Convey that same message of reassurance when the two of you are at odds. Saying “I’m really angry and I need some space, but I want you to know that we’re OK” is a priceless reassurance that matters to nearly every woman.
These little actions may seem trivial, so it would be easy to discount them. Don’t. They are powerful. They can actually begin to transform a relationship even if only one person is doing them. Give them a try in your marriage and you’ll soon find that these actions really weren’t that “little” after all.
Shaunti Feldhahn is a social researcher and the author of The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages.