The Small Stuff Matters


How micro-betrayals erode the very foundation of your relationship

Probably dozens of times throughout the day, your partner forgets to do something; breaks a promise, arrives late or leaves too early (or forgets an appointment altogether), or makes another big mess. When confronted with his (or her) actions, he thinks that by simply saying, "I’m Sorry," (again) will somehow make everything magically O.K.  What the offending partner doesn’t realize is that it’s not the big stuff that usually destroys relationships, but rather the small stuff, little things that happen again and again, over a long period of time, which destroys the loving relationship.  We like to refer to these “over and over again” episodes as “mini-micro betrayals,” which seem at the moment, like no big deal.

But Nothing Could be Further from the Truth!

Those pesky little things add up, and while no single act is that big of a deal, when they start adding up and multiplying – Watch Out!

Over time, these little things start to feel like termites ferociously eating away at the foundation of your relationship. What’s left is a relationship filled with holes, destroyed one little termite-sized bite at a time. This leaves the disappointed partner feeling like, “Hey - if I can't trust him to deliver on the ordinary, everyday stuff, how in the world can I count on him with the big stuff; the important stuff?”

Left untreated, your partner’s unreliable nature creates distance and resentment, and eventually the relationship could collapse or implode. Meanwhile the offending partner is oblivious to any problem whatsoever, thinking everything is totally “fine.” What an unpleasant surprise when he is confronted with a mad spouse who has finally had enough!

Remember in relationships the daily micro-betrayals really do have an enormous impact on the sustainability of your relationship.  You can’t change him or her (…if that were the case, you’d have done it by now!). So, what can you do to alter this destructive course?

Learn to talk to your partner every day. Accentuate the positive, telling him or her how much you appreciate his uniqueness, or the way he does something that you really do appreciate. Do not be condescending! Only tell the truth and express genuine appreciation.

In the same way, when something is done that sends you through the roof, explain those feelings, too. Leave out absolutes (you always do this or that); avoid negatives (why don’t you think before you do something?) and don’t bring up the past (you did the same thing last month!). Instead, tell him you need to talk about something that happened and then gently explain. The purpose of talking is not to condemn and bring up a laundry list of things done wrong. NO! The purpose is to bring awareness of the situation from your perspective and lovingly talk about the repercussions of the event.

For example, let’s say you come home from work to find that your wife started planting some flowers along the walkway in the morning, and then when she was about halfway through, decided to go into the kitchen and bake bread. The flowers she planted look like they may survive but the ones still in the cartons are hot and drooping and appear to be about half-baked from the blazing sun. Dirt is all over the sidewalk; and the shovel, rake, hoe, the hose (which is still on and spurting water), and fertilizer lie in the way all scattered about. It’s a mess.

In the house, the house smells almost wonderful, like the aroma of freshly baked bread, but with a hint of burn to it. Hmm…seems as though she may have forgotten to set the timer again. Your wife is tired but happy for all that she has done today, and she desperately wants/needs your approval and appreciation. Never mind that the yard and the kitchen (and your wife!) are a mess and the bread is burned. (“It’s not burned,” she explains with a grin and a wink, “it’s only a little brown on the edges.”) Dare you burst her bubble by saying something now? The results may not be what you really want or expect from an adult, but she really has worked hard all day and is eager to share everything with you. But you know from experience that it could literally be days or weeks before she gets back out to finish up the flowers. You groan inwardly as you ask yourself if this is going to be a repeat of last year when she left the same project unfinished all summer long?

What do you do? What should you do? How do you turn this into a positive?

Now is your time to express heart-felt appreciation.

Look at the things she did get done. Tell her the flowers she planted are beautiful and will be a wonderful, colorful addition to that little area. Tell her the bread smells good enough to eat, even the “brown edges” will be good with butter, and then smile at her and wink. And then suggest that after dinner the two of you could go outside and spend time together finishing up the planting. The positives are accentuated. Your wife is appreciated. The mess provides the two of you ‘together time’ and by the end of the day, it can be all nice and neat.

Will it happen this way every time? No. But every time you can use it to create something wonderful. Do you need to be her babysitter and take her by the hand every time to make sure things are done up? Maybe, but hopefully not. Let us reiterate to you: You Aren’t Going to Change Your Spouse. She is what she is. You are what you are. We all are what we all are.

Focus on how you react to each situation. Focus on you!

Learning to look at situations a little differently; attacking a problem with kindness and love, can make all the difference in the world regarding your marriage. However, if you think you may not be getting anywhere in your marriage, seek professional council so you don’t drive yourself crazy or give up on the relationship. You can get there; be patient with your partner, and be patient with yourself.