In Relationships, Small Acts Are A Big Deal

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power fo small
Small acts make a big difference in dating and marriage.

This morning my boyfriend carried my laundry to the Laundromat for me. I was leaving for work and with my coffee, purse and gym duffel it wouldn't have been easy to lug the 21-pound bag down the stairs. It wasn't a big deal, I could have managed it myself, but my man saw me struggling to balance it without spilling my coffee, and he offered to carry it for me even though he didn't need to leave the house. "Because we're a team," he said. It's true, we are a team—and with that small gesture he showed that he meant it.

Small acts go a long way—that is the point of The Power Of Small: Why Little Things Make All the Difference by Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Kovol. The two ad execs are the authors of the best-selling tome, The Power Of Nice: How to Conquer the Business World With Kindness, but their new book is more than a guide to business-savvy.

"These are the critical issues not only in business but in any relationship," explains Kovol.  "If you think about how you met your husband or the thing that changed your relationship with your parents, it's never about some big grand gesture; it always comes down to some very small thing that happened."

We spoke to Kaplan Thaler and Kovol from their offices in Manhattan about applying the power of small to dating and marriage.

What inspired you to write the book?

Linda Kaplan Thaler: We had written The Power of Nice and when we were trying to decide next book should be we began to look at another counterintuitive piece of information. We live in a culture that's all about seeing the macro pictures, and we started to realize that our success wasn't about seeing the big picture or big five-year plan; it really centered on the fact that we're people who always look at the tiny details. If you aren't paying attention to some very small cues and some very small behavioral patterns then you really can derail yourself.

What are some small things you can do to improve your relationship?

Robin Kovol: Our boyfriend, our girlfriend, husband, wife, whoever it is, does things that bug us. They pick up their socks or forget to close the cabinets and we let those things swirl and they become big problems.

It's amazing when you do very, very small positive things to reinforce what you want someone to do, like giving your husband a kiss every time he puts a plate in the sink and holding your tongue every time he forgets to put the toilet seat down. And it actually works. Before long they're asking to do the laundry. A Marriage Battleground: The Toilet Seat

LKT: It isn't necessarily about the big things—sometimes it's as simple as getting "I love you" at the end of a phone call or an email. Sometimes it's just being there, not to settle a problem, but to listen. 25 Ways To Say "I Love You" Without Words

RK: And observe. We're a word culture, so listen to what people say and put a lot of meaning into people's words. But try turning the sound down in your head and just watching the other person. When you're on a date with somebody just visually observing them for a minute: does he look down at his plate every time you say the word New Jersey or mention work? That tells you a lot. Maybe that's a man that's not interested in what you do. And that's important to know.

Can you give me specific examples of the power of small from your lives?

LKT: Before meeting my husband I had dated a lot of losers. And I thought he was going to be another one of them. The first time we went on a date it was a cold day. As we were about to go outside he leaned over and buttoned the rest of my coat and said, "It's cold out." That gesture just spoke volumes about the kind of guy he would be, the kind of husband he might be, the kind of father he might be. There's a lot to be said about somebody who doesn't even know you that well but is already worried you might catch a cold.

When we're in a relationship we tend to get lazy and ignore those small signs. It's not bringing flowers or a box of candy that keeps a relationship alive, it's being aware of subtle gestures that are signals from your partner saying "I need you," or "I don't want to hear about this right now" or, "I want someone to listen." They're not necessarily going to verbalize it—especially if they're a man.