Not long ago, the marriage of some close friends, Jessica* and Daniel*, suddenly imploded. I’ll never forget a conversation I had with Jessica one day as she grieved the loss of her marriage. Through her sobs, she said, “He worked so hard for a year to take us on that amazing Hawaiian vacation. But all I really wanted was for him to put his arm around me at church!”
Sadly, this pattern is a common one. Daniel, a godly, well-intentioned husband, showed his love in several ways, including working long hours to provide for his family and to do nice things for them. For him, providing is love. Unfortunately, he didn’t realize that what he was working so hard for wasn’t what Jessica most needed—and in some ways, actually robbed her of the closeness she needed most. (And, of course, there were ways she didn’t know she was hurting him.) What she needed most, more than all the expensive vacations in the world, were a few, simple, specific day-to-day actions.
But something as simple as a loving gesture in public? you wonder.
Yes! My research on highly happy couples showed that an extraordinarily high percentage of them were doing little specific actions that made their spouses feel deeply cared for.
Clearly, a few small actions won’t fix deep relationship problems. But for most of us, a handful of simple day-to-day actions increase the likelihood our spouse feels that we care deeply about him/her instead of feeling that we don’t. There’s enormous power in that.
The Few, the Small . . . and the Huge
Two categories of a few small actions surfaced in the surveys I’ve given to happily married couples. The first consists of a few specific things that matter to almost every member of your spouse’s gender. But they are so small you just need to notice that they matter.
The second category of a few small actions is not as universal. Likely, they don’t even matter to a majority of people who seem to be very similar to your spouse. But they matter enormously to your spouse!
When a husband or wife puts in the modest effort it takes to learn both categories of a few small actions, it is like suddenly seeing springs of water irrigating a dry plain. Happy moments begin to bloom all over the place, and enduring love puts down roots.
Let’s begin with a few small actions that matter to almost every man or every woman—what I call the Fantastic Five.
The Fantastic Five for Him
A wife will have a big impact of her husband’s happiness when she does the following:
- Notices his effort and sincerely thanks him for it. (For example, “Thank you for mowing the lawn even though it was so hot outside.”)
- Says, “You did a great job at _________.”
- Mentions in front of others something he did well.
- Shows she desires him sexually and that he pleases her sexually.
- Makes it clear to him that he makes her happy.
The Fantastic Five for Her
A husband will have a big impact on his wife when he does the following:
- Takes her hand.
- Leaves her a message by voicemail, email, or text during the day to say he loves her and is thinking about her.
- Puts his arm around her or lays his hand on her knee when they are sitting next to each other in public.
- Tells her sincerely, “You are beautiful!”
- Pulls himself out of a funk when he’s morose, grumpy, or upset about something, instead of withdrawing.
Here’s more great news. All these small but powerful actions matter regardless of what the person’s love language is.
The Best Little Personal Things
In addition to the Fantastic Five little things, there are those little things that matter specifically to your mate. Finding out what those are are—and committing to do them—will increase your spouse’s happiness (and your own) even more.
Here’s where a person’s “love language” comes into the picture. But it’s not the action itself that is important, but what the action implies. In other words, the why behind the action that says, My spouse knows what matters to me and makes sure to do it—and that means he/she cares about me.
It’s not the action itself that is important, but what the action implies.
Sadly, there’s no looking back for our friends Jessica and Daniel. But I’m so thankful that God is good. He is always at work to redeem our broken parts—and I know he’ll do it for our friends. Still, a corner of my heart mourns the heartbreak that might have been prevented if they had truly understood the power of doing these best little things.
We all know that small, thoughtful acts are not a magic cure-all for every marriage problem. But having talked to so many who nurtured happiness with simple but powerful actions, I know all of us can build that all-important foundation that helps us believe that our mate notices and cares.
*Not their real names.
Excerpted from The Seven Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages by Shaunti Feldhahn. Copyright © 2012 by Shaunti Feldhahn. Excerpted by permission of Multnomah Books, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.