I think we all know of little things we could do that are good for our relationships that we are not likely to do on any given day. My emphasis on “little things” is very important. On most days, there are too many obstacles in the way of doing big things. Of course, big things are great to do from time to time, but big sacrifices require big opportunities that are rare. Small sacrifices do not require big opportunities. They are thoroughly and routinely doable.
If you want to apply this idea to your own relationship this week, here’s a little exercise for you. Take a few minutes of quiet time and think about some of the things you have done in the past for your partner that fit these characteristics.
1. It is something under your control.
2. It is something small that you can decide to do just about any day or week you want.
3. It is something that you know is good for your relationship and that your partner tends to like.
4. It is something you are NOT all that likely to do today or this week, even though you very well could.
Go ahead and write a few ideas down.
Challenge time. Commit to yourself to do one or two of the things you wrote down in the coming week. Not 10. One or two. Develop some way to remind yourself and get after it. Don’t tell your partner what you are doing, just do it. Your partner may or may not notice everything but he or she will probably notice some of these things. But that's not the point, really. The point is doing a few small things that are good for your relationship. Your relationship will be stronger for it.
If that works for you, try this idea out for a number of weeks (there’s not really any great reason to stop).
It’s point number 4 that really puts this idea into the realm of small but meaningful sacrifice. That’s because you are recognizing in yourself that you are not likely to do this very simple thing that you know your partner appreciates. You have to decide to go out of your way, a tiny bit, to follow through.
It’s not the thought that counts. Ideas that are never put into action may be thoughtful but they are not effective. Your mission is to do something.
(Redux—Edited from version first posted on 4-27-2009. We now include this idea in many of our books and relationship education materials because we believe it's simple and effective.)