By Terry Gaspard, LICSW
If you think you need grand gestures to show your spouse love you may be mistaken. In fact, many studies speak to the fact that the secret to long-lasting love are small gestures such as cooking your partner a meal or cleaning up afterwards without him or her asking you to do so.
One of the things that Alana values about Tim is his ability to show love through his actions.
Alana puts it like this: “It’s the everyday moments that matter. When I forget to bring in the mail (even when I am the first-person home) and Tim says he’s glad to go fetch it and water all of the outdoor plants before dinner, he makes my day. These little things make a difference.”
Tim responds: “Just because Alana works at home, it doesn’t mean she’s responsible for all things home related or all of our kid’s activities. There are never enough hours in the day but I am grateful that Alana works at home and can take care of sick kids, laundry, and start dinner most days.
Alana speaks: “Tim honors my time and values me. This is a remarriage for both of us and we want to do it right the second time around. Since we have three kids, we make sure we go out for a quiet dinner or long walk alone at least once a week. I also go out with my friends at least once a month.”
6 Ways to make small gestures count in your marriage:
- Look for ways to lower each other’s stress: Problems at work, financial pressures, or family drama can all push a couple apart. Couples who can respond to each other’s stress in a way that is soothing rather than in a way that exacerbates it tend to be able to weather the tenser times. Offer to give your partner a back rub or make them a cup of tea. Dr. John Gottman suggests that you have a 20 minutes stress-relieving conversation in the evening when you don’t try to solve problems but take turns listening and offering support.
- Spend 5-10 minutes doing things to show love and kindness to your partner. Examine the schedules of family members and determine whether there is a reliable time that you can spend time alone with your partner. It may require altering work schedules to the extent that it is possible. Focus on each other, offer physical affection and really listen to each other. Often even devoting five to ten minutes to each other can strengthen your bond.
- Carve out time for daily rituals to do with your partner. For instance, 15 minutes to debrief your day when you first arrive home, waking early to cuddle, and showering or bathing together. Consider eating one meal a day without screen time to enhance communication.
- Develop strategies for intentional communication and repair of ruptures or conflicts. Strive to have a loving dialogue about perpetual conflicts and agree to compromise on those that aren’t easily resolved. Look for win-win solutions when possible so you can both get some (but not all) of your needs met.
- Help one another out: This can include helping your significant other make plans, complete tasks, achieve goals or manage their time. These positive actions can lead to interdependence, as partners begin to coordinate their behavior to try to bring their long-term bigger goals to fruition.
- Dream and plan together – look into your future and envision your dreams while staying focused on the present and your time together.
In The Relationship Cure, Dr. John Gottman suggests that you have a 20 minutes stress-relieving conversation in the evening when you don’t try to solve problems but take turns listening and offering support.
Alana reflects: “I never realized the importance of spending time alone with Tim until he went on a business trip last year. We really missed our time together and found out that absence really does make the heart grow fonder.”
It would be easy for Alana and Tim to neglect time alone together – without their children. Alana’s three children (all under age twelve) live with them and Tim’s two college age daughters are often home on weekends and during winter and summer breaks. However, Alana and Tim embrace the notion that in order for their second marriage to thrive they need to pay attention to each other on a regular basis.
Alana shares: “It’s kind of like tending to my garden, if I don’t pay attention to it, my plants with wither and die. I don’t want this marriage to fail like my first one did due to lack of nourishment because Tim and I have the potential for an amazing long-lasting love.”
Alana leans her head on her palm and reflects: “Before I met my life partner, I had almost given up on finding one. I convinced myself that different people in my life combined would fill the void: one man as my lover, one as my friend, one being the father of my children, and so on. Thankfully, I always had loving friends, community and my family. But, with the people in my life filling different needs, I began to believe that there could be more. I was missing a different type of love than the one I have for my children and family, and it was the type of love I had yet to feel.”
Most of all, never underestimate the power of intentional time with your partner. Doing fun things together like going for walks or riding a bike can bring joy and laughter. Telling jokes, watching funny movies, or anything else that brings you both pleasure can ignite passion and keep you connected. In order to feel alive in your marriage or remarriage, you need to put effort into spending quality time together – with and without your children.
Find Terry on Twitter, Facebook, and, movingpastdivorce.com. Terry’s award-winning book Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship was published by Sourcebook is 2016. Her new book The Remarriage Manual: How to Make Everything Work Better the Second Time Around was published by Sounds True in 2020.