Seemingly Small Actions Compound Over Time
One of the biggest mistakes many of us make in relationships is waiting for the ship to go markedly off course before taking corrective action. Waiting for the ship to start sinking before thinking to yourself, "How could this have been avoided," isn't the best strategy. Instead, plot your course consistently and make sure you are staying on track. If you veer slightly off course, make a small corrective maneuver.
More importantly, you don't have to wait for problems to arise in your relationship before taking action. Take steps throughout the year to make sure your relationship is getting even better. To use balckjack as a metaphor, you want to make sure you are "doubling down" when the odds are stacked in your favor.
One method my wife and I "double down" is to make sure we are nourishing our relationship by reading 1-2 books on the subject each year. Now, it’s not enough to read these books, you have to put the lessons into action.
One of the latest books I read which offered fantastic relationship advice, in addition to many other pearls of wisdom about life in general, was Darren Hardy’s book, The Compound Effect.
The premise of this book is, major changes occur due to many seemingly small actions or behaviors that compound over time. For example, let’s look at weight gain. The average American from early adulthood through middle age gains 1-2 lbs per year. Now 1-2 lbs might not seem like a big deal, however, over the course of 20 years, this means the 45-year-old you is now 40 lbs heavier than the 25-year-old version. That’s pretty significant if you ask me.
The same thing happens with your relationship. The small things add up having a major impact down the line. As you can imagine the impact is either positive or negative depending on the nature of those seemingly small interactions.
You Grow Together or You Grow Apart
It’s important to note that throughout life we are always learning and growing. When we think of this in terms of our relationship, this means we are either growing together or growing apart.
Have you ever seen a couple and thought, “These people are so incredibly different, I wonder how they got together in the first place?” Well, that likely occurred because these people slowly grew apart over the course of many years. It wasn’t anything drastic. Instead, many small changes compounded over 10-20 years resulting in two totally different individuals. For better or for worse, these individuals developed different needs and wants which likely went unexpressed, spelling disaster for their relationship.
I know that if my wife and I are not intentional about our relationship and dedicating time to learning and growing together, we run the risk of growing apart. Fortunately, many of the relationship books I’ve read, give great actionable steps for making sure our growth is in alignment.
Listing Your Partner’s “3 Things”
So what’s one strategy to make sure we are not taking the small things in our relationship for granted? Well, in The Compound Effect a very useful strategy was discussed that I decided to implement in my own life. Mr. Hardy recommended keeping a gratitude journal about your significant other. Now we all know home much expressing gratitude can add to our life, but can you imagine the gains we'd see if we apply this to our relationship on a daily basis?
Last year I decided to start this journal. Each morning before leaving for work, I’d write down 3 positive things that I noticed about my wife. These ranged from big to seemingly small– although we now know how much the small things matter. For instance, “I love how my wife supports and affirms me” or “what a badass career woman she is becoming."
Create a Positivity Radar
This exercise taught me a great deal. After starting the journal I began to recognize more of the subtle things my wife does that I otherwise may have taken for granted. My “positivity radar” was up. I found myself looking for the positive attributes about my wife as I knew I’d be recording it in my journal.
Don’t Just Write it, Say it!
It created an environment where I was able to affirm her more. I found myself thanking her for the little things she did around the house on a regular basis and complimenting her more frequently. This caused her to feel seen and appreciated by me, resulting in reciprocal affirmation as she began thanking me more despite her not keeping a journal.
Recognize the Good, Even When There’s Some Bad
It was also a useful exercise during fights. Instead of ruminating about what she’d done “wrong,” I’d try to focus on all she’d done “right.” This helped get my prefrontal cortex, or the logically thinking part of the brain, back on board. Typically, fights are controlled by one's amygdala, the part of the brain that processes emotions, which often causes us to act irrationally.
As an added bonus, I decided to give the journal to her as a Christmas gift at the end of the year. I mean, who doesn’t want a gift that shows they’ve been viewed with positive regard each day for a year? This won me major brownie points with the Mrs!
A journal might not be your cup of tea, but developing strategies to ensure you are noticing the small things about your significant other is incredibly important for maintaining a healthy, supportive relationship. Remember, the small things in life compound having significant implications for your relationship in years to come. So, despite popular belief otherwise, make sure you sweat the small stuff.
How about you? What tips do you have for maintaining a healthy relationship?
 Hardy, D. (2011). The Compound Effect. Vanguard Press.