It was late, and my wife and I were getting ready to go to sleep. I rolled over and looked at her.
“What?” she asked, smiling at me. I asked her a simple question: “How do you know that I love you?”
Certainly, I thought, it is going to be the surprise cruise honeymoon that cost thousands. Or maybe the book of 100 reasons why I love her that took over 10 hours to make. Or maybe the rose petals I saved from our proposal and pressed for Valentine’s Day. Surely, one of those things is how she knows I love her.
Her response left me speechless.
“Because you brought me my water bottle.” I had completely forgotten that I had grabbed her water bottle on the way to bed and handed it to her. She usually keeps it on her nightstand, but it happened to be in the kitchen, so I just brought it in.
“And because you did the dishes.” But she had cooked . . . isn’t that normal if she cooks and I clean?
“And because you text me during work.” Doesn’t everyone?
“And because you give me kisses.” Isn’t that for me too?
To be honest, I was a little bugged at first. She had mentioned so many little things that I hadn’t even thought about that I felt like my grand gestures hadn’t been appreciated. But then I remembered something I had read when we were engaged: “Marriage isn’t any big thing, it’s a lot of little things. Acts of kindness every day create a happy marriage” (John Bytheway, What We Wish We’d Known When We Were Newlyweds).
It wasn’t until my wife answered her own simple question that the quote made sense. That’s when I stopped looking for one really big way to yell “I LOVE YOU!” and instead made a goal to find lots of little ways to say the same three words.
But this advice isn’t just about marriage—it’s about all relationships, even those in our business and personal lives. Studies have shown that many small goals and frequent acts of positive affirmation yield incremental, yet longer-lasting results. Large goals or displays of appreciation, while positive, generally lead to quick, but more temporary results at best, and failure and disappointment at worst. Whether you are making goals to serve a spouse or to please a boss, if they are too large, the distance between positive affirmations is sometimes too infrequent and doesn’t encourage us to get where we need to go.
For example, if you want to lose 50 pounds in a year, the best way is to start by losing just one pound a week through small diet and exercise adjustments (except for Thanksgiving and Christmas, obviously!).
If you want to run a marathon, start by walking a mile a day.
If you want to stay married, start by doing the dishes or leaving a simple love note.
Do the small things, and do them often.
And while I’ve got a long way to go, luckily . . . I’ve still got a long way to go.
So let’s start today. All together. Let’s find one small way that we can tell our significant other we love them each day. Let’s find one small way to make their day a little bit better. Let’s find one small way to make the world around us a little better.
Then, after a lifetime of doing the small things, we can hear the words, “thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee a ruler over many things: enter into the joy of thy lord.”(Matt 25:21)
Lead image from Getty Images
Zack Oates is an entrepreneur, newly minted husband, hot tubber, and blogger (but not in that order, necessarily). He lived in Ukraine for two years serving an LDS mission and started a nonprofit in 2008 called Courage to Hope, which works with victims of domestic violence. After working at an ad agency in NYC, he founded his first company. Four years later, he sold that startup and returned to BYU for his MBA. He has been a founder of five other startups, rung the NASDAQ bell, has been to 30 countries across 6 continents and currently lives in Dallas with his wife working as a business consultant for fortune 50 companies. Check out his blog, bowlofoates.com.