One thing that deepens relationships is doing the little things that matter. You see it in people who observe, reflect, and then act. Listen in to today’s episode for an example.

John Gottman writes in The Relationship Cure that based on his research Successful marriages are characterized by a series of little positive interchanges over time. In a nutshell, it’s the little things that matter most in a marriage.

The same can be said of interpersonal relationships between friends and acquaintances. I saw this played out recently in an interaction between my wife Janet and one of her friends.

Recovering from knee surgery

My wife Janet had knee replacement surgery about 6 weeks ago. We talked about the details of the operation, as we knew them, with one of our friends, Linda (not her real name).

I’ve mentioned her before in this podcast. We’ve been friends with her for several decades, with more contact with each other in recent years.

Because another of Linda's friends went through it too, she was familiar with the recovery that’s involved.

Several weeks after the surgery Linda sent Janet a card and asked how she was doing. She said she’d like to stop over and visit when Janet was up to it.

After a few more weeks of recovery, when Janet was over the very worst of the pain, Linda came over for dinner and the three of us had a pleasant evening. We got caught up on each other’s lives, with Linda sharing about her adult daughter’s bout with cancer. More on that later.

We sat outside on our patio for one of the first times this year. Very calm & restful evening. Being with Linda got Janet’s mind off her knee pain for a few hours that night.

Janet talked about how her knee surgery brought on a mysterious new craving for cookies. She told me they had medicinal properties that sped up healing. So as Janet’s medical director I dispensed them occasionally as needed.

Linda told Janet about the new upscale cookie store in town, Crumbl. Janet started salivating.

Cookies and listening to Marcel Marceau’s CD of classic love songs are the two things that soothe Janet’s spirits the most.

A surprise visit

The next day I’m working in my home office when around noon, our doorbell rings. Here it is Linda, delivering two small boxes from Crumbl, each with one of their gourmet, upscale cookies inside. One for Janet and one for me. I have a photo of it in the show notes.

From what I understand these cookies are pretty pricey. Loan officers set up in the store taking financing applications to buy these cookies.

I invited Linda in but she had her dog in the car, and said couldn’t stay. So I took one of the cookies to Janet, and she was over-the-moon delighted.

In this very kind gesture by Linda, I saw an example of two principles of deepening relationships at work. The First is the ORA principle I’ve talked about before in this podcast. Linda

Observed Janet’s condition

Reflected upon the pain Janet was experiencing, then Remembered what made it better for her – a cookie.

Acted. She came back the next day with a cookie for Janet from Crumbl

Unconsciously skilled in relationships

The other relationship principle I saw in place is the relational skill level of Linda. I talked about the 4 levels of relational skills back in episodes 11 through 14. I’ll have links to them in the show notes.

  • Unconsciously unskilled
  • Consciously unskilled
  • Consciously skilled
  • Unconsciously skilled

Linda is certainly at the 4th level, the highest level, unconsciously skilled. It’s just part of her character. She brought the cookie for Janet without giving it a lot of thought, I’m sure. Because that’s who Linda is. It’s her character.

Another thing I noticed, she didn’t ask Janet, “Is there anything I can do to help?” No, she just took an educated guess and did something based on what she observed and reflected upon, which prompted her to act.

Linda’s caring in context

Linda’s daughter has incurable colon cancer, and she’s living with her and her family to help out. I talked about this in episode 148.

She’s watching her daughter go through the pain of chemotherapy, and witnessing her frail 40-something daughter struggle to make it through the day. Yet Linda still extended herself to Janet with her Crumbl cookie delivery. It made her caring gesture all the more meaningful given how her daughter’s journey with cancer is uppermost in her mind.

As for me, I certainly enjoyed the cookie. But more than that I enjoyed watching Linda care for Janet in ways so meaningful for her, and yet what appeared so naturally. It was a true reflection of the character of God.

It was a reminder that I can be more like Linda myself, not just with Janet, but with other people. I need to pay attention to the little things that matter in relationships important to me. And so do you. For we all need each other. We can’t go it alone.

So what does all this mean for YOU?

You can become unconsciously skilled in relationships like Linda is. It just takes practice. So here’s what I would like you to try:

Think about one important relationship in your life right now. Then ask yourself what might be little things that matter in that relationship you could attend to. See if you can step it up a notch, pay more attention to those little things, and see how it goes for you.

Here’s the main takeaway I hope you remember from today’s episode

Paying attention to the little things that matter the most in a relationship will strengthen that relationship. We discover what those little things are when we observe – reflect – then act.

I’d love to hear how this works out for you, so please let me know.


In closing, I hope your thinking was stimulated by today’s show, enough to put into practice what you’ve just heard. To think about just one person in your life and your best guess as to what are the little things that matter most to them. And then do that little thing for them.

For when you do, it will help you experience the joy of relationships God intends for you. Because after all, You Were Made for This.

Well, that’s it for today. Please consider telling others about this podcast if you think it would be interesting and helpful to them. That would be one little thing that could matter to someone. And don’t forget to spread a little relational sunshine around this week. Spark some joy in the people you run into. And I’ll see you next time.

Related episodes you may want to listen to

011: Relationship Skills – Level 1
012: Relationship Skills – Level 2
013: Relationship Skills – Level 3
014: Relationship Skills – Level 4
148: What Not to Say When Bad Things Happen to Good People

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