The Little Things That Matter: Small Steps to a Stronger Relationship

Relationships are built on a foundation of trust, kindness, and commitment between loving partners. The little things we do for our partners—taking note when they are tired, engaging with their levels of excitement, etc.—are the building blocks of strong, lasting relationships. Gottman noted these signs of relationship success in his studies; you can learn more about his work and other great ways to strengthen your relationships in Mission 7.4 with LIFE Intelligence, an app that helps with self-growth and building relationships.

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Gottman’s Love Lab

Gottman’s “love lab” became the foundation of learning how to love when, in 1986, Gottman began to observe hundreds of couples and their reactions to conflict. By simply observing their facial expressions, verbal cues, and physiological reactions, he was able to predict relationship success with 90% accuracy (Buehlman et al., 1992). Another astonishing statistic from these studies is that couples who turned toward each other during “sliding door moments” remained married 86% of the time after a six-year follow up (Gottman, 2012). These sliding door moments are small moments in time when we have the choice to pay attention to and be close with our partner, even if it is something as simple as joining them by the window when they point out a rainbow.


The findings from the Love Lab still hold true and are a valuable source of information when considering what makes a strong relationship. According to Gottman (2012), here are some great tips for building intimacy and strong connections in a relationship:

Conversation:

  1. Don’t be afraid to express your emotions
  2. Ask open-ended questions that invite a deeper response and continued conversation
  3. Follow up with statements that reflect on your partner’s feelings and encourage them to open up more
  4. Express compassion and empathy; also be on your partner’s team!


Repairing Conflict:

  1. Ask questions to better understand: “Help me understand. Were you upset because you feel I haven’t been doing enough around the house?”
  2. Express affection: Thank your partner for making dinner and/or give them a hug.
  3. Make promises: “From now on, I will try not to be on my phone when we spend time together.”
  4. Reinforce and affirm the relationship: “I’m glad we’re able to openly talk about how we feel.”

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The Building Block of Trust

Trust and commitment are two key things in a relationship (Shirdel et al., 2019). A strong sense of trust is especially important for people with an anxious attachment style who need to know that their partner truly cares for them (Arriaga et al., 2014). Relationships also work twofold because when a partner boosts an anxious individual’s sense of self, this helps them be more trustful of other people in general.


Trust is coupled with an ability to express emotions and feel that those emotions are acknowledged by one’s partner. Lack of empathy can cause anger to build up, leading to a lack of trust (Gottman, 2002); it is plausible that a reverse effect could occur if a relationship starts with little trust and has no room for that trust to form if anger is left to simmer. Without trust, intimacy declines (Shirdel et al., 2019). The biggest takeaway from this is that trust is built on our ability to closely connect with our partners and the relationship, trusting that we can intimately share our deepest feelings and thoughts. All of these things tie together in what Sternberg (1986) called the Triangular Theory of Love.

Triangular Theory of Love


Each of these triangular components of a relationship takes a lot of trust! You first have to trust your partner to open up (intimacy), then build that trust to be physical with them (passion) and trust them enough to commit to your love for each other (decision/commitment).  Trust can be scary but that’s okay! Let your emotions and feelings toward your partner guide you as you build your relationship.

Relationship Satisfaction

Relationship satisfaction is the joint experience of positive feelings and level of attraction to one’s partner and the relationship itself (Cassepp-Borges, 2021). Higher levels of relationship satisfaction are attributed to several aspects of good partners: being accessible, engaged, and responsive Robinson et al. (2021). These traits were also observed in Gottman’s Love Lab by partners who engaged in sliding door moments and chose to be close with their partner.


Why is it so important to be engaged with your partner in those little moments? Empathy is the concept of feeling what others feel, which also includes trying to experience what they are experiencing (Persson et al., 2018). When partners notice the little things, or bids for attention (Gottman, 2002), they are expressing empathy which is a positive emotion that shows a strong sense of care for their partner. Even though small moments such as joining your partner to look at a rainbow might not seem like much, the accumulation of these moments, and the buildup of how you show empathy, will leave a strong, lasting impression that you care for, and want to spend time with your partner.

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Build Relationships with LIFE Intelligence

Relationships can be difficult but expressing empathy and kindness truly makes the little moments shine and builds a strong, lasting relationship. Trust and commitment takes time but by focusing on the elements of a strong relationship presented by Gottman and later studies, this trust can be easily achievable. It’s all about that special person!


LIFE Intelligence is an app that teaches you the skills to develop yourself and your relationship. After all, you have to be secure with yourself before you can be secure with another person! Work through the Missions to learn about attachment and relationships, decision making, and communication—all valuable skills to building your relationship! Mission 7 will help you find your attachment style and teach you how to be secure and happy in a committed relationship.



Chiara Nicholas
June 28, 2021

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Void: Bolstering Attachment Security in Committed Relationships. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 5(4), 398–406. https://doi.org/10.1177/1948550613509287

Buehlman, K.T., Gottman, J., & Katz, L.F. (1992). How a couple views their past predicts their

future: Predicting divorce from an oral history interview. Journal of Family Psychology, 5, 295-318. https://doi.org/10.1037/0893-3200.5.3-4.295

Cassepp-Borges, V. (2021). Should I Stay or Should I Go? Relationship Satisfaction, Love, Love

Styles and Religion Compatibility Predicting the Fate of Relationships. Sexuality & Culture, 25(3), 871–883. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12119-020-09798-2

Gottman, J. M., & Levenson, R. W. (1986). Assessing the role of emotion in marriage. Behavioral

Assessment, 8(1), 31–48.

Gottman, J. M. & Silver, N. (2002) What Makes Love Last? Simon & Schuster.

Persson, I., Savulescu, J. The Moral Importance of Reflective Empathy. Neuroethics 11, 183–193

(2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12152-017-9350-7

Robinson, M. D., Persich, M. R., Towers, C. M., Sjoblom-Schmidt, S., & Penzel, I. B. (2021). Implicit

security: A social cognitive model and assessment of attachment security in romantic relationships. Personality and Individual Differences, 171. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2020.110530

Shirdel, M., Hosseinian, S., Kimiaei, S. A., & Safarian, M. R. (2019). Estimating the Validity and

Reliability of Gottman Questionnaires of “Couple Trust Measurement.” Contemporary Family Therapy: An International Journal, 41(1), 37–46. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10591-018-9470-1

Sternberg, R. J. (1986). A triangular theory of love. Psychological Review, 93(2), 119–135.

https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-295X.93.2.119



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