Over the Easter holiday I had a lively conversation with one of my “bonus” daughters (married to one of my sons) about advice she had received at a bridal shower. She felt the most helpful wisdom regarding her upcoming marriage was, “Sweat the small stuff because small stuff can become big stuff.”
The traditional wisdom of “Don’t sweat the small stuff” seems to discourage paying too much attention to little irritations, and annoyances. However, if we really are bothered by seemingly minor frustrations and we never address them, the aggravations can build up over time, eventually creating a much larger and more volatile emotional eruption. Sweating the small stuff can mean paying attention in our relationships to times of discomfort. When we sense something may be amiss, figuring out what might be going on and then naming that for our self and for the other. Addressing potential problems on the front end is a way of taking care of ourselves and our partner in order to keep difficulties from escalating into insurmountable obstacles.
Another bit of wisdom I find helpful is to “speak your truth in love.” Sweating the small stuff by sharing our feelings of dissatisfaction or disapproval is best done when we offer the critique in a spirit of genuine love and care for ourselves and for the other. Cultivating a loving attitude before confronting a difficult situation can facilitate a healthier conversation and more productive dialogue.
Lastly, I think it is important that we not only sweat the small stuff that bothers us but that we also celebrate the small stuff that is positive. In working with engaged couples, I often tell them that it’s important to share at least five positive comments with their partner for every negative one. Even Harvard researchers have discovered that the highest performing teams in corporations are those in which supervisors provide nearly six positive remarks for every negative one.
Celebrating the small stuff can be expressing gratitude when the other takes care of a daily chore. Noticing when the other is kind and helpful. Complimenting each other for simple efforts.
In the end, small stuff does matter. Paying attention to the daily details of our relationships, both the good and the bad, is important. Doing the math is important. Emphasizing the positive without ignoring the negative at a 5 to 1 ratio will make for healthier couples and happier homes. This week let’s both sweat AND celebrate the small stuff that makes up our lives.