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 | Alison Blanchet

Small Things Lead to Big Rewards in Marriage

This remains one of my favorite nuggets of marriage advice from a homily I heard at a nuptial Mass a few years ago. As much as living the vocation of marriage is about love — willing the good of the beloved and striving to imitate how Christ loves the Church — I believe many can attest that the virtues of love and perseverance go hand in hand.

Secular marriage therapists John and Julie Gottman spent decades studying relationships and determined that there are certain habits and traits shared by those in happy and healthy marriages that can be learned and practiced. One of these is “positive sentiment override.” The Gottmans explain that when a couple has worked to cultivate friendship and respect, they will naturally assume the best about the other — even when their partner might be doing something that could be perceived as hurtful or annoying. For example, when positive sentiment override exists, leaving dishes on the coffee table is more likely to be seen by the partner picking them up as, “Whoops, they must’ve forgotten!” not “Who do they think I am, their housekeeper?”

This isn’t a Pollyanna approach that avoids discussing important conflicts. Rather, it’s a mindset that, when faced with minor annoyances, chooses to believe the best about the person one has chosen as their lifelong companion on their journey to heaven.

This mindset to persevere in seeing the good in one’s spouse isn’t automatic, but the Gottmans’ research suggests simple actions that couples can take. The great news is that their list does not include a bow-wrapped Lexus in the driveway at Christmas or yearly trips to Hawaii.

On the contrary, the Gottmans discovered that couples who do “small things often” grow in friendship, show appreciation for each other and have happier marriages. This includes things like saying “please” and “thank you,” giving compliments and knowing what’s important to the other.

Conflict is unavoidable, but when appreciation for one’s spouse has been cultivated, conflict can be less traumatic and even become an opportunity for connection.

Persevering in one’s vocation takes action; those called to religious life can attest to the importance of a daily structure of prayer and discipline. Those living the vocation of marriage don’t have the structure of a monastery or convent, but committing to “small things often” is a concrete way to persevere.

If you are planning to gift a luxury car or vacation this month, by all means go for it. But if even a night out is too much to pull off these days, take heart that a lot of evidence exists that your marriage can be strengthened by regularly giving your spouse compliments, asking him or her how the day went — and really listening to the answers without attempting to solve any problems — and saying “please” and “thank you.”

This month, as we celebrate love, and World Marriage Day on Feb. 13, decide what small things you can do often to show appreciation for your spouse. Then, as that wise homilist said — persevere!

Alison Blanchet lives in Panama City with her husband and children. Email her at