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  • Dr. Teresa Edwards, LMFT

Sustaining Love: It's the Small Things

I love hearing stories from couples in new relationships of grand gestures of love and extravagant displays of affection. The stories often resemble a scene from a movie: a romantic dinner surrounded by candles, a car full of balloons attached to love notes, flower deliveries at work for multiple days in a row. While these grand gestures contribute to the charm and excitement of the initial stages of a relationship, research indicates that sustaining a long-term relationship involves different dynamics.


The long-term strength of a relationship is forged in the small things - the tiny moments of connection, gratitude, affection, and recognition. It's these little, positive interactions and behaviors that are the foundation of a happy and fulfilling relationship, and serve as deposits into your partner’s emotional bank account.  

Small Things Often

Dr. John Gottman emphasizes the importance of making frequent deposits into your partner’s emotional bank account. His research showed that, in marriages that were happy and thriving, couples had at least 5 positive interactions for every negative interaction during conflict. What this suggests is that the impact of 1 negative interaction cancels out the effects of 5 positive interactions. In terms of the emotional bank account, 1 withdrawal wipes out 5 deposits. Without actively making deposits, couples may find their emotional bank accounts slipping into the red.

Although it’s typically easy to maintain positivity and connection in the early stages of a relationship, these aspects can often become overshadowed with the busyness of life. Couples need to intentionally focus on making deposits into their partner's emotional bank account to sustain the atmosphere that initially led to them falling in love.

It's important that you know what behaviors make deposits into your partner’s emotional bank account and that you're doing those things on a daily basis. It's also important that you know what behaviors fill your bank account, and you're able to clearly communicate those to your partner. These small caring behaviors, when done consistently, nurture feelings of connection, commitment, and trust in a relationship. They also help to create an overall positive atmosphere between partners that can sustain them through occasional disagreements, selfish moments, or oversights.

The Small Things

When I see couples for counseling, I generally ask each person to make a list of 10 small, positive caring behaviors that their partner can do for them throughout the week to show that they care.  Frequently, this isn’t something couples have thought about and discussed. I have couples swap their lists with the goal of doing something to show they care each day. 

Here are some examples of caring behaviors my clients created.

  • Kiss me before you leave for the day.

  • Hug me when you get home from work.

  • Ask me how my day was and listen without distractions.

  • Hold my hand while we watch TV.

  • Text me an encouraging message during the day.

  • Tell me a characteristic you admire about me.

  • Do one of my daily chores for me.

  • Notice something I’ve done and thank me.

  • Look me in the eyes when we talk.

  • Compliment me on my appearance.

  • Smile at me for no reason.

  • Surprise me with my favorite treat.

  • Go for a walk with me after dinner.

  • Fill my car with gas.


I encourage you to take some time to figure out what small behaviors speak love to you and to ask your partner what specific, small behaviors you can do to speak love to them. The beauty of a fulfilling relationship lies in these gestures. As you consistently invest deposits of kindness, gratitude, and affection into your partner’s emotional bank account, you not only foster a positive atmosphere in the relationship but also strengthen the foundation on which the relationship is built. 

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