In marriage, the little things are really the big things.
In business it is well recognised that getting the ‘big things right’ are important, but it is often the so-called ‘little things’ that make the difference between good and great companies.
We were remined of this the other day when reading about a US company that specialises in disaster-restoration. It jumps into action following a flood, tornado, or after fire damages or destroys a community. It’s tough, dirty, dangerous work.
To express his appreciation, CEO Sheldon Yellen writes a personal handwritten birthday card to every employee every year, plus additional anniversary cards, thank-you notes, and messages for a job well done.
That may sound like a small thing but under his leadership the company has grown from $5 million in revenue to more than $1.5 billion and so last year that represented 9,200 birthday cards and a total of over 12,000 handwritten notes.
His job requires him to fly a lot and so on every flight he boards the plane with a bag filled with cards, pre-addressed envelopes, a blue gel pen and – skipping the meal and movies – he writes about 150 cards per flight.
It’s no different in our marriage. Big things matter of course, but that’s not enough. It’s the small, everyday gestures, actions of generosity, restraint and thoughtfulness that actually do the heavy lifting in our marriage.
Small gestures – whether in words, body language or handwritten messages – send big signals about who we are and what we care about. These become the daily habits that nourish and till the soil of our marriage.
It’s true that, often, our small gestures go unrecognised and so we think unappreciated. But the fact they are often unrecognised does not mean they are not appreciated or not working. It’s a bit like healthy eating or exercise; it’s the absence of a heart attack years later that can be the pay-off, but we may fail to notice the impact because the heart attack never happened!
These gestures and actions fall into different categories: acts of service, gestures of appreciation and bids for connection for example.
Acts of Service
Small, simple acts of service are pretty obvious; emptying the dishwasher which takes a few minutes at most before racing out the door in the morning, refuelling the car before its needed, making our spouse’s side of the bed while he or she showers.
As you are reading this you are probably having the same reaction we are having while writing it. “Are you serious? These are so trivial!”
True, but in each case, they involve doing something our spouse does not expect, nor has asked us to do. Rather, we act because we are generously doing some small thing so they don’t have to.
We don’t think our spouse will notice an empty dishwasher, but he sure will notice when he opens it and it’s still full of clean dishes (with the day’s dirty dishes stacked ‘thoughtfully’ in the sink).
We think the other won’t notice the car was refuelled but she was probably unconsciously keeping an eye on the petrol gauge thinking about when it will be least inconvenient to refuel as she rushes around her week.
A freshly made bed may be easily overlooked, but the visual pollution of an unmade bed is an unwelcome sight.
Truth be told, we notice these things more than we know, we just fail to acknowledge them!