If you’re anything like me, hearing “tiny habits” might make you think small means weak. It turns out the opposite is true! Dr. BJ Fogg talks about creating tiny habits in his book, “Tiny Habits: The Small Changes that Change Everything.” Baby steps are essential in building new ways of, well, anything really, including new ways of interacting with one another. But don’t resort to the old standby of nagging your partner into submission! It is essential to keep in mind that creating positive interactions will do more for making changes than anything else. This is the idea behind “small things often,” which comes out of the research of Dr. Gottman. He learned this from watching successful couples interact in healthy ways. Whether it is in making tweaks to how you have conversations or making intimate moments for frequent, small positive interactions, tiny is the way to go!
The first thing to learn is how to compose a tiny habit recipe. Here’s the general formula: After I … (choose an anchor moment), I will … (the tiny behavior); then, I celebrate (your choice)! All you have to do is figure out what these three elements need to be for the habit you want to create. The first element is to identify an anchor moment. This is an existing routine or event in your life that will remind you to do the tiny behavior (the second element). This tiny behavior is a scaled-back version of the new habit you want to develop; it should be super small and super easy. One way to think about it is what is the first step you would take to perform the action. Then you get to decide how to celebrate immediately. This could be by smiling, doing a slight head nod, visualizing fireworks, inhaling and thinking of energy coming in, whatever works for you. This is important, as the celebration is what gets your brain interested in repeating the tiny behavior in the future.
You can now create tiny habits with your partner to boost moments of connection in your life! To get you started, here are some examples of how to use the recipe for making tiny habits that improve your relationship:
You get the idea. Note that tiny habits do not have to be done as a couple (as with the kissing example). They can be a habit one partner does that is positive for the relationship (as the last example). Have a conversation together about what you want to try. This is a great way to increase intimacy, whether you decide on one to do as a couple or not. If you fancy diving deeper into tiny habits, head on over to tinyhabits.com.
In this time of global concern and stress, it is worth taking a moment to make sure we are taking care of ourselves and our families. Part of this is taking care of our mental health, which means managing the stress as effectively as we can.
“The vast majority of cases are going to be mild, and people are going to recover just like they do from a cold or flu-like illness.”
— Dr. Amesh Adalja
Senior Scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security
Below are some links to resources that could be helpful. I want to briefly outline the tips that the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists put together. Their public service announcement is aimed at reducing anxiety and stress during this time:
The only other thing I will add is to support one another in your relationship as much as you can. The best way, at this point, is to practice having a stress-reducing conversation. For tips on how to do this, see the blog Holiday Survival Kit, the last bullet point. If you find yourself in conflict with your partner (e.g., differences of opinion as to how much you should be going out), be sure to discuss things calmly. It is essential to avoid the four horsemen—see 3 Ways To Stay Calm When Your Partner is Driving You Nuts!; How to Get Rid of Criticism and Defensiveness; and Contempt, the Battery Acid for guidance around this. If it feels like the discussion has turned into one that is all too familiar, it may be a perpetual issue. In this case, talking about it in a specific way is important—see Do the Same Arguments Keep Coming Up Again and Again With Your Partner?
Here are a few reminders and suggestions for talking to your partner if you find you’re feeling frustrated and misunderstood:
Phew! That’s a lot of information! My hope is that you and yours stay healthy and that we pull together to make it through this challenging time as safely as possible.
My thanks to Wren Gray-Renebrg, AMFT (AMFT 109983), for her contributions to this blog.
California Department of Public Health:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
CAMFT (California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists):
There is also good news around all this. Peter Diamandis has been collecting some of these stories, so tune in for the positive as well.
If you want to give meditation a try, Headspace is making available a Weathering the Storm collection, free for everyone. It includes meditations, sleep, and movement exercises to help you out.
If you need support from a mental health professional, and you are in California, you can contact me for my availability. I also offer telehealth as a remote option. You may also contact Wren Gray-Renebrg, or reach out to one of these resources to find a therapist near you:
Why should you care about rituals? Well, for starters, they are necessary to have in any healthy relationship. Like it or not, we are creatures of habit. Making sure you have healthy habits in your relationship—practices you can count on to stay connected with your partner—is essential. We call these rituals of connection. Bill Doherty first coined this term in his book The Intentional Family.
Rituals of connection work best if they are thought out and planned. Here’s what to think about: When will the ritual happen? How often? Where? Who will initiate it? How will it unfold? How will it end? Here is what I recommend: Have a conversation with your partner about a ritual of connection you would like to create as a couple. If you would like inspiration, the Gottman Card Decks app has a deck with great ideas to consider, called, aptly enough, Rituals of Connection. Choose one of these and first share with your partner why you chose the one you picked (what’s important about this for you). If your partner agrees with the suggestion, answer the questions above to make practical plans to incorporate it into your relationship.
It’s a good idea to have a conversation about rituals of connection regularly, at least once a year. You want to see if there are any changes you wish to make to tailor these to what you need at that moment. For instance, if you think of bedtime rituals, you will realize that these rituals change as children grow. It should be the same in your relationship. Make sure that you have rituals of connection in your life that keep you connected consistently! For other examples of rituals of connection, take a look at these blogs: Holiday Survival Kit, 7 Valentine’s Day Date Ideas, and Is Technology Ruining Your Relationship?
Have you ever binged streaming episodes on your favorite service (Netflix, etc.) only to come around to yourself and realize the whole weekend is gone? Or have you ever felt like the last time you had a real conversation was sometime in the past century? All too often, we get wrapped up in our online accounts and other forms of media, at the expense of ignoring those we love and other priorities. Even cartoonists have turned their focus on this issue; take, for example, this cartoon by Trevor Spaulding, which appeared in The New Yorker magazine on April 27, 2015.
I recently heard an interview on the podcast Design Matters with Debbie Milman. Debbie interviewed Tiffany Schlain, (who created the Webby Awards) and who, among other accomplishments, has written, “24/6: The Power of Unplugging One Day A Week.” Tiffany has practiced and is a proponent of taking a tech sabbath (time off from technology use) one day a week. Whatever you think as to the merits or deterrents of technology, there has been more and more attention paid to the effects of it on our lives. It is worth considering how to manage this powerful tool to make sure technology is helpful to us (in work, and even in love — such as staying connected) while also minimize some of the downsides it can have (the loss of eye contact and the constant distractions it can supply, both of which can erode intimacy).
Here are some of the suggestions Tiffany has for managing tech in general:
And here are suggestions for preparing for a tech sabbath:
Live one day a week analog-style, and you might be surprised what you will be gaining! Although it may feel daunting at first, you will likely learn some wondrous things about yourself and your community (remember the library? The park?). You may find that you are more excited about and proficient in your technology use when you are using it. You may find that you begin to look forward to this time off of tech to concentrate on other priorities, such as connecting with your partner and others!
If you haven’t made plans yet for Valentine’s Day, it’s not too late! There are plenty of great things to do, not only on Valentine’s Day but for the weekend and beyond.
Valentine’s Day can be a great day to develop a ritual of connection. Rituals of connection are ways to stay connected consistently. They provide a way you can count on to interact in both small and important moments throughout the day, the week, and the years to come. Examples include date night, birthdays, how we greet one another at the end of the day, etc. It is a good idea to discuss these. Talk about why it is important (why you’ve chosen to talk about it). Then go into the nitty-gritty of incorporating it into your life (the who, what, when, and where of it).
For Valentine’s Day, our culture promotes various different ways to celebrate, most of which are date night type activities. Date night is essential as a ritual of connection for couples. I’ve talked about its importance and some ideas for what to do in Date Night Blues, but here are some great ideas for Valentine’s Day:
Notice that some of these options are pretty low cost. It doesn’t take much money to create a Valentine’s Day ritual of connection that can be one more way of keeping the romance stoked in your relationship. You can also check out other rituals of connection ideas on the Gottman Card Deck app under rituals of connection. Happy Valentine’s Day!