Love is composed of little things. Grand statements and gestures of caring may excite us, but they are not the substance of love. Love’s substance is the seemingly minor daily exchanges between us and our loved ones. Big things are made up of little things, vast galaxies of infinitesimal particles. Tiny grains of sand compose the world’s beaches. When you walk on them, what you feel are those little grains caressing your toes.
Just so, what renders love pleasant or painful is the quality of its tiny grains, its texture and temperature. Like the title of a ‘50’s love song puts it, “Little Things Mean A Lot.” Its lyrics ring true:
“Blow me a kiss from across the room,/ Say I look nice when I’m not;/ Touch my hair as you pass my chair,/ Little things mean a lot./ Give me your arm as we cross the street,/ Call me at six on the dot;/ A line a day when you’re far away,/ Little things mean a lot./ Don’t have to buy me diamonds or pearls, champagne, sables and such;/ I never cared much for diamonds and pearls,/ But honestly, honey, they just cost money./ Give me your hand when I’ve lost the way,/ Give me your shoulder to cry on;/ Whether the day is bright or gray give me your heart to rely on./ Send me the warmth of a secret smile to show me you haven’t forgot,/ For now and forever, that always and ever,/ Little things mean a lot.”
The little things of love indicate the presence or absence of the big things. These little acts are called the “quid pro quo,” meaning something for something, loves “trade offs.” They are the daily “you do, I do” specific things we come to expect from each other, from back scratching to meal preparation. We don’t love the other because of such trade offs, but without them, the relationship is imperiled.
What are the little things, which taken together determine our satisfaction in love? Among them are the way we greet and part; the fair distribution of housework; our responsiveness to small talk; our daily punctuality, dependability and thoughtfulness. Parity is vital to mutual satisfaction in love: parity or equality in every sense, in giving and getting, in taking responsibility for the relationship.
Relationships flounder when one or both persons refuse to do the little things for the other. We usually do so due to ignorance or willfulness. Perhaps we don’t know what the other wants, and we don’t inquire – and it is important to both ask and to tell, never assuming, “If you loved me, you would just know.”
Willfulness leads to power struggles. We wrestle for control of the relationship; we want the other to do and be what we desire. In our willfulness we refuse to give the other what we know the other wants. The relationship stalls, and joint dissatisfaction sets in.
To get the relationship moving, you need to do the little things for the other that you want the other to do for you. Keep at it, communicating what you are doing and why. You’ve got to model the little things you seek.