Cuddles and cuppas: the importance of small gestures in relationships
This week, a new app-in-development is making headlines, promising to turn any man into a knight in shining armour.
The app, called HeroBoyfriend, is the brainchild of Dan Groch, a 32-year-old Australian entrepreneur and it offers a seemingly simple service. After asking you a few questions about your relationship, the app will periodically remind you to surprise your partner with “unexpected gifts” and help you “always know the right things to say”. It also promises to keep you on top of special occasions and be “considerate and attentive”.
So far, the app seems to be aimed solely at heterosexual men and assumes that its users are the type of people who struggle to remember what day it is. It also plays into female stereotypes, suggesting that women all fantasise about the same type of things (flowers! chocolates!).
But could HeroBoyfriend be on to something? Can small gestures such as unexpected gifts really make that much of a difference to your relationship? In fact, research would suggest the answer to that question is a big ‘yes’!
A major study conducted by The Open University and published in 2013 discovered that deceptively simple actions such as saying ‘thank you’ to your partner, touching base during the day with a text message or even just bringing your partner a cup of tea in bed could be the foundations of a long and successful relationship.
The study conducted an online survey which had over 5,000 respondents and 50 in-depth interviews. As part of the survey, people were asked to answer questions such as ‘What two things do you like best about your relationship?’.
The results were pretty clear: what people valued most from their partner are small everyday words, gestures and actions. Very few respondents indicated that grand romantic gestures like being whisked away on a luxury holiday were what kept them happy.
Authors of the study noted that although typical gifts such as flowers and chocolates were mentioned, most respondents emphasised the thoughtfulness of the way the gift was presented and its meaning to them individually, rather than just being touched by the gift itself. For example, picking up a box of your girlfriend’s favourite chocolates from that shop she loves but can never get to is likely to be more meaningful than a box of standard chocolates from the supermarket.
So many people wrote that they feel appreciated when their partner makes them a cup of tea that the researchers had to give this very British gesture its own category. They noted that such a “high level of agreement” across over 10,000 different responses was “remarkable”.
But the gesture most highly valued was gratitude. Simply thanking your partner for something they have done, whether that’s household chores, giving you a lift, childcare or any other simple task, was the most important thing for all participants of the survey, regardless of age, gender, sexuality and whether or not they were parents.
The report details that “recognition of the time and effort required to complete the everyday, mundane tasks which underpin relationships and smooth running of a household” is overwhelmingly the most important thing anyone can do in a relationship. In other words, your partner does a lot of chores around the house, then letting them know how much you appreciate this might be the best place to start.
With 200,000 to 250,000 couples separating each year, this advice might be especially important to married parents (of any sexuality). The research suggested that parents are the least likely to make time for each other or for ‘couple time’, to pause each day to say ‘I love you’ or to perform any of the small gestures mentioned which add up to the ‘relationship work’ that keeps you close and in love.
Communication is often flagged up as a major part of keeping a relationship going, and something we regularly talk about here. But that doesn’t always mean lengthy emotional discussions. Simple emails and texts during the day, just sharing something funny you saw, or taking two minutes to send a random ‘I love you’ text can brighten your partner’s day and keep you bonded throughout the hustle and bustle of your busy lives outside the home. Being able to share things with your partner, talking openly and feeling supported with your problems are also an important part of good communication.
If you’re looking for a few ideas on little things to remember, below is a list of the top answers for what makes people feel appreciated by their partner:
What does your partner do that makes you feel appreciated?
Says thank you and/or gives me compliments
Gives me cards, gifts, flowers etc.
Does/shares the household chores and/or childcare
Talks with me and listens to me
Is physically affectionate
Says and/or shows s/he loves me
Cooks some/all of our meals
Makes kind and thoughtful gestures
Makes me tea, coffee and/or breakfast in bed
Supports and looks after me
Is always there for me
Values me and respects my opinions
Makes time to be together, as a couple
Supports my personal interests/career
So, it looks like HeroBoyfriend might be on to something after all. These little things do mean a lot. It might not do any harm to put some reminders in your phone or diary to make couple time or do something special for your partner once in a while, but what that ‘something special’ is will be very different for each person. The uniqueness and specialness of the gesture seems to be as important as the act of performing it. And if you aren’t sure, why not just ask? Care and loving attention like that is the sort of thing that could easily make you a HeroBoyfriend, or a HeroGirlfriend, Wife or Husband.
For more ideas, visit our Tips and Insights page, or share what your partner does that makes you feel special in the comments below.
 Coleman, L., & Glenn, F. (2009). When Couples Part. London: One Plus One Publications