When I first met my now-husband’s friends, we all went out to dinner. When we were eating dessert, one of the wives said, “I have known several girlfriends through the years, and he never shares his dessert with anyone. He must really like you!” I laughed, thinking she was kidding. She wasn’t.

We both love our desserts! Later in our relationship, we would still share dessert, but our spoons would battle over the last bite. And the ice cream? Restaurants never give you enough! We now always order an extra scoop of ice cream on the side so we each have our own. The meal no longer ends in a battle and we both walk away with our sweet tooth satisfied.

Do I actually think we would split up without the ice cream? I certainly hope not. But in most marriages that I hear ending, it’s not the big stuff. Yes, there are affairs and addictions. But much of the time it’s more like “death by a thousand paper cuts.” It’s the little stuff that adds up over time. The last drop gets added and everything spills over. Once water spills out of a glass, you can’t get it back in there. You can only try to clean up the mess it leaves behind.

In the other areas of our lives, we all seem to realize that we need to be intentional about learning new skills in our jobs, planning dinners with friends, and keeping our bodies healthy. For some reason, many of us think that our marriages should just flourish naturally. If it is our “soul mate” (I am happily married, but still do not believe in soul mates), then we should get along every day, want to skip through meadows with this person, and feel understood by our partner every day.

What I have learned from hearing about others’ marriages, as well as experiencing my own, is that it is the little stuff that will make us or break us. Yes, the date nights and vacations are wonderful. But are we checking in with our spouses about their day? Are we remembering to tell them how grateful we are for them? Do we ever take them a cup of coffee in the morning or help them fold the laundry? It’s the little stuff that makes us feel connected and seen.

The “Little Stuff” Ideas You Can Start Right Now:

  1. Text your spouse one thing that you appreciate about them.
  2. Keep a running list of things your spouse has done that you are grateful for on your phone. Every so often, write them on a note card and leave it somewhere. I never knew if my husband liked these or found them cheesy, but I found them all saved in his nightstand recently.
  3. Drink a cup of coffee together in the morning. If you have kids, putting them in front of the television for twenty minutes while you have your coffee date is not going to hurt them.
  4. Take a walk around the neighborhood.
  5. Pick up the coffee cups (or clothes, shoes) your spouse leaves around the house without telling them you did it.
  6. Pick one night during the week to be no-electronics night. We can all talk or have game night (there is a running game of Rummikub in our house!) before we go to sleep instead of being glued to our phones.
  7. Ask your spouse what you could do that would be helpful for them today.
  8. Try to schedule a family meeting weekly to discuss household projects, future plans, and so on. So often couples try to have these discussions when they lay down at night. Not only are you missing a time for reconnection, but in turn probably stress yourself out right before bedtime.
  9. Pick a television series (old or new) to watch together.
  10. Do you know that pet peeve your partner has? (Mine is dishes in the sink, while my husband’s is leaving stuff on our stairs.) Yes, you most certainly do because I’m sure you have heard about it a “few” times. Be intentional about not doing that pet peeve this week, even if you don’t understand why it bothers them so much.

The Slightly Bigger “Little Stuff” (These require a little more planning)

  1. Go online and take the Love Languages Quiz with your partner. If you have not heard of love languages, any quick google search will explain more. You can sign up for emails from the love languages site, and they will send you weekly ideas in the various love language categories.
  2. Make chocolate-covered strawberries (or whatever is a treat for you) for no specific reason.
  3. Buy dry erase markers and write messages on the bathroom mirror to each other.
  4. Go to the store (maybe the dollar store, cards have gotten so expensive!) and pick up a few cards to have after your spouse has a bad day, after a disagreement, etc.
  5. Plan a weekend getaway. It is very hard to feel connected to someone if most of your interactions involve the logistics of daily life. I think these weekends are helpful to keeping the connection.
  6. If getting away would be difficult for childcare or financial reasons, staycations can be great too. Send your child/children to a family member or one of their friend’s houses for a night if possible. Enjoy activities around your town or stay in for movie night, whatever you desire!
  7. Plan a “fun” date. Sometimes we get stuck in the dinner date rut. Go to an escape room, miniature golf, or an arcade. Laugh and have fun together!
  8. Grab takeout from your partner’s favorite restaurant and have an outdoor (or indoor!) picnic. There is just something about eating on a big blanket that makes you feel more relaxed.
  9. Recreate your first date. This may sound a little cheesy, but it really can help you feel nostalgic and remember all the things you like about your partner. My husband and I recently visited the drinking establishment (I figured this sounded better than bar. Please no judgment!) we met at. It was fun to think about that evening and how far our lives have come since then.
  10. Last, but certainly not least, get that extra scoop of ice cream!