Relationship Help: Sometimes a Small Change Makes a Big Difference

Relationship Help Quick Tip

If you want to strengthen your marriage/relationship, think small: Pick one tiny behavior that you’ve wanted to change about yourself (or a behavior that drives your spouse/partner up a wall) and commit to changing it.

You might be thinking “easier said than done.” But if it’s a small change–something that wouldn’t take a great deal of effort—your chance of success increase significantly. And don’t kid yourself, small changes add up to big differences over the long haul.

As a marriage and couples counselor, I’ve seen first-hand how important consistent follow-through is to strengthening a marriage/relationship and creating lasting change.

The golden rule for meaningful change is patience and persistence.

One Reason Why Marital/Relationship Problems Persist

Couples frequently make the following mistake: they identify a behavior that they want to add or subtract from the marriage/relationship, such as adding the behavior of holding hands more often, and they do this for several days. And then they wait and observe.

What are they looking for?

They expect to see a quick benefit for their efforts–for the relationship sky to crack open and their spouse or partner to proclaim, “You’ve been wonderful and affectionate these last couple of days, I don’t even know why I’ve been so upset with you!”

And when the anticipated results are nowhere to be found, couples give up and fall back on the old patterns that got them into trouble in the first place.

The payoff for small changes happens down the road. So it’s important to put your focus and energy into turning the new change into a welcome habit.  As this habit grows, it can lead to other small, positive changes in you (and your partner)–ripple effects often occur over time.

So invest your energy and mental focus into making the change a regular part of your relationship–don’t wait around for the payoff. Expecting a particular outcome (such as immediate acknowledgement from your spouse) is a setup for frustration and disappointment. Be patient.

Relationship Help Tip: An area ripe for a small change

As a spouse/partner, how do you typically start and end your day?

I often ask couples about how they greet and say goodbye to one another. This is an important area of relationships that is often neglected or minimized. Making a small change here can pack a big relationship punch down the road.

Improving the way you greet your partner and say good-bye are quick and easy to do– but often overlooked in our hectic, chaotic lives. A warm, expressive greeting (when you wake up–OK, after you’ve had your coffee–or when you return home) can set the emotional stage for the rest of the day or evening.

An affectionate “good-bye” also allows you and your spouse/partner to emotionally hold on to positive, loving feelings while separated from each other. Remember, it’s usually the last thing you say or do (your exit behavior) that stays with your partner during separations.

You’d be surprised how often couples skip this simple way to book-end their days.  It may seem easier to put all your morning energies into rushing around and running out the door in order to be on time. But when you start your day in this way, you overlook small but meaningful opportunities to stop, make eye contact with your partner and genuinely wish him/her a good day.

Don’t fall into this trap.

Until next time,

Dr. Rich Nicastro

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