The Small Essentials That Strengthen a Marital Bond
You may have thought taking out the trash or giving your spouse a kiss on the cheek wasn’t very important to the overall health of your marriage. But, the reality is that small actions such as these matter greatly. I recently came across a quote by Dr. John Gottman that captures just how important the seemingly small matters are, specifically to the trust building process. “Trust is built in very small moments...because in any interaction there is a possibility of connection with our partner or turning away from our partner.”1 The validity of this statement has become ever more apparent in my work with married couples. Time and again they reference how important it is for their husband or wife to respond in small or subtle ways that ultimately add to their sense of feeling loved, supported and secure in their relationship. In other words, the small actions spouses take to support one another register deeply on an emotional level. You may be surprised to learn that much of what these couples report are outlined in a single verse of Scripture: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” - Galatians 5:22-23 (NIV) Let’s look at a few of these seemingly small elements further. Patience and Self-Control Whenever spouses speak with me about their emotional bond, they often make references to a need for safety or a sense of security in their relationship. When asked what would help increase this feeling of safety, they often disclose a need for their spouse to be more patient and less reactive when they communicate. It’s important to understand that when spouses are communicating about various aspects of their relationship, they evaluate the degree to which their partner remains self-controlled, loving, calm and in a position to hear what they are saying. Such responses add to their feeling of safety and trust. On the other hand, if their partner is quick to become upset, impatient or angry their ability to feel safe in the relationship greatly diminishes. Think of it this way. If you had pain in your hand, and you put it out to your spouse so they could comfort it, but they instead hit it with a hammer, would you feel safe to do so again? Probably not. But, if they took your hand and gently caressed it, would you have more confidence in their ability to respond similarly (i.e., supportively) in the future? Most likely. Patience and self-control, in this regard, serve to help create this latter effect in a marriage. Kindness Kindness can take many forms in a marriage. From the standpoint of communication, a soft, loving or caring tone exhibits a variant of kindness and serves to bring spouses closer together emotionally. It can also take the form of an act of service (e.g., helping clean the house), a repair attempt (e.g., “I’m sorry for hurting your feelings.”), or taking a few moments to sit with your spouse and listen to how their day unfolded. You can undoubtedly think of other examples of kindness to apply in your marriage, however the key is to implement them consistently over time, so they become an integrated part of the overall marital system. As a marriage counselor, I’m constantly searching for whether a husband and wife are kind to one another, because it tells me a great deal about the nature of their interactions as a couple and their respective hearts. When kindness is mostly present, I know we have a base or foundation upon which to help them build a more secure emotional bond, and an indication is provided as to whether they are truly seeking out the benefit of each member and their marriage as a whole. When kindness is generally absent, a couple will often present as being in a state of emotional chaos, and it has to be determined whether couples counseling is actually appropriate for them at the present time. Faithfulness Common sense would say that if you want to maintain a solid, strong or healthy marriage you remain faithful to your spouse. You don’t lie, hide things from them, or have an emotional or sexual affair. This may not sound groundbreaking, but it’s the truth. The fact of the reality is that a marriage characterized by faithfulness and the steady integrity of each individual, is headed towards being a lasting marriage. A marriage where dishonesty, or a lack of faithfulness is present, is one not likely to succeed. In summary, it’s vital to remember that the small, day to day, actions you take to love your spouse make all the difference in the world when it comes to the development and maintenance of trust and a secure emotional connection in your marriage. Moreover, the fruit of the Spirit, outlined in Galatians 5:22-23, provide a surprisingly simple and practical view of things you can do each day to love and care greatly for each other. My encouragement would be to take a moment to consider their importance to the health of your marriage. References 1. Gottman, J. (2011). John Gottman on trust and betrayal. Greater Good Magazine. Retrieved from (link). Eric Gomez is a Marriage & Family Therapist specializing in building families, strengthening marriages and addressing the personal, relational, and cultural harms of pornography. He received his graduate degree in Marriage & Family Therapy from Seattle Pacific University and his undergraduate degree in Psychology from New Mexico State University.