Small things that make a relationship

Small Things That Make a Relationship

As time marches forward, the portrait of an average relationship shifts and changes. Gone are the days of sheepishly sharing a milkshake in a red-checkered diner or calling your boyfriend’s landline and asking his mother to pass over the phone.

An increasing number of adults are looking for love online, to the tune of 59 percent of people touting it as a good way to meet a partner. Same-sex and interfaith unions are similarly on the rise, along with remarriage and cohabitation.

There are some things, though, that stand the test of time: Catching your partner smiling at you from the corner of your eye. Opening the fridge to see that your spouse purchased your favourite food. Having your significant other laugh at your totally lame joke.

We surveyed over 900 Europeans and Americans to find out which little relationship gestures best kept the spark alive. Keep reading to see what we learned.

Small but mighty

10 small things women and men value most in relationships

What would a relationship be without laughter? Whether you enjoy a little silliness here and there or share a secret language with your partner that leaves you both in stitches, laughter can make a relationship come alive.

Among male and female respondents, having their partner laugh at their jokes was the most valued aspect of their relationship: 67.8 percent of women said they cherished this act the most, and 69.2 percent of men felt the same. Partnerships sprinkled with laughter may actually be healthier, with some sources reporting lowered blood pressure, reduced stress hormone levels, and the release of endorphins as a few fun side effects.

Random smiles and acts of food took second and third place, but in reverse order between the genders. Women preferred a clandestine smile from their partner (66.8 percent), while the key to the hearts of men was through their stomach (65 percent).

While over 61 percent of women felt receiving a compliment about being sexy or attractive was their most valued relationship perk, that same category did not even make the cut for men. Other sentiments that showed up exclusively for women include being soothed when upset and being called an endearing pet name. On the men’s side, they expressed gratitude for being surprised with a gift and having their partner’s full attention while in conversation.

You may have realised that a couple of these gestures align with those in the popular five love languages model. Consider taking a peek at it with your partner to determine the “small things” they appreciate most, and how you can show each other love in a way that will make a big impact!

Sexual gestures

10 small things in a relationship women and men find most arousing

Arousal can look completely different from person to person, and different things make each of us tick. But one romantic gesture truly stood out from the pack when it came to setting the sexual tone. Over 31 percent of men and 36.7 percent of women remarked that getting a compliment from their partner calling them “sexy” or “attractive” put them on a fast track to getting in the mood.

If you’re one of those people, you may be a prime candidate for enjoying dirty talk in the bedroom. Those looking to explore the option can check out this beginner’s guide to get the ball rolling, going from tongue twisters to twisted tongues.

When it came to the second most popular arousal triggers, women cited instances in which their partners bought them experiences, as opposed to material objects. Doing things together as a couple is a wonderful way to keep the magic alive, so it only makes sense that maintaining the spark may lead to sparks in the bedroom.

Getting smiled at, whether often or randomly, was the third most arousing interaction for both men and women: 17.4 percent of women preferred it, as did 17.8 percent of men. Isn’t it wonderful what a furtive grin can do?

Appreciation with time

Importance of the small things by length of relationship

While the honeymoon period in a relationship can be an explosion of endorphins punctuated by hundreds of doe-eyed moments, there comes a time for every couple when things morph into a routine. For a lot of people, though, the feeling of being settled into a relationship can be pretty wonderful. Over time, the way we view our relationship changes, and different gestures can either ramp up in importance or begin to fall away.

A downward trend was observed with micro-attractions such as buying favourite foods, treating one’s partner to experiences (instead of objects), and being slipped a compliment that shouted out one’s sexiness. Most of these downturns happened at the 11- to 15-year mark, although people seemed to fall out of love with gifts of food a little earlier: around five to 10 years in.

For example, the importance of receiving your favourite food from a partner fluctuated by less than four percentage points for couples who were together less than a year all the way up to five or 10 years. However, by the time year 16 rolled around, the percentage of people keeping tabs on food gifts was less than half its peak value.

Meanwhile, other small gestures became much more important with time. The most notable instance of this was when one partner made social plans for the both of them: Something that only 3.4 percent of newly coupled people valued, but 10.4 percent of couples together 16 or more years had on their radar. Some studies suggest socialising as a pair promotes the longevity and strength of a relationship, a concern that can indeed become more prevalent as the years go by.

Passionate persistence

Small things that arouse by length of relationship

Rumour has it that men’s sexual peak is attained before the age of 20, and women hit theirs in their 30s. We think it is more nuanced than that – in fact, one survey found respondents in their 40s reported the best sex of their lives. As relationships grow and evolve, sexual profiles follow suit.

Our survey found gestures more overtly sexual, such as buying lingerie and walking around the house naked, took a dip as relationships grew older. While 16.8 percent of respondents felt buying lingerie or sex-related items was one of the best ways to spice things up, only 10.3 percent of respondents who were together for 16 years or more felt the same.

On the other hand, less explicit micro-interactions, like getting smiled at and receiving gifts, became increasingly important over time. Individuals in the five- to 10-year range found smiling to be the least important on the timeline, but a whopping 22.6 percent of longer-term partners felt receiving a smile randomly or often was a huge factor in arousal.

The act of smiling itself has the power to spur a sense of happiness even when you’re feeling blue – how could that not be contagious?

Tips from satisfied relationships

10 things satisfied relationships do by gender

We take the time to express small gestures of love for our partner to make them happy. A happy partner is usually a satisfied partner. Put two happy campers together – now you’re cooking with gas. A heartwarming 78.7 percent of respondents filed themselves under “satisfied,” while another 17 percent were middling. Only 4.3 percent of our surveyed population was not satisfied in their relationships.

Among women who reached relationship nirvana, 74.2 percent said leaving room to indulge in some “me” time was the best gift their partner could give. The healthiest relationships strike a balance between time together and apart, leaving both halves of the couple to develop themselves as well as their identity as a duo.

Men, on the other hand, preferred fancying themselves a comedian: 68.5 percent of respondents felt their partner laughing at their jokes was the height of micro-gestures. There have been entire studies dedicated to the impact of laughter and playfulness on a relationship’s quality and potential. Hint: Laughter really does matter!

Receiving a smile was second place for both genders, at 73.2 percent for women and 66.5 percent for men. This was the only time a gesture was positioned at the same rank: While laughing at jokes and buying favourite foods appeared at different points in men’s and women’s top four, they showed significant differences in their preferences overall.

When the small things add up

While romantic gestures can serve different purposes, some truly rose above the noise for men and women alike. The power of sharing a smile, uproarious laughter, and the affirmation that yes, you do look sexy, displayed an exceptional impact among our surveyed couples.

Here’s the truth: Nurturing a happy relationship takes a lot of hard work, all the time. The gestures discussed in our survey are fun little components of a much larger machine that needs daily oiling and maintenance. To learn more about keeping both you and your partner physically and sexually healthy, trust Superdrug Online Doctor. We’ve always got your best interests in mind.


We collected 972 responses from European and American men and women. We had 820 respondents from Europe and 152 respondents from America. In total, we surveyed 521 women and 451 men. Participants ranged in age from 18 to 72 years of age, with a mean of 35 years and a standard deviation of 11 years in age. We did not have a validated measure of relationship satisfaction, so we created a scale of satisfaction from one to five, with one being “not at all satisfied” and five being “very satisfied.”

Hypotheses were not statistically tested. The data we are presenting rely on self-reporting. There are many issues with self-reported data. These issues include but are not limited to: selective memory, telescoping, attribution, and exaggeration.

Fair Use Statement

Feel free to share our study on the importance of the small things in a relationship for noncommercial purposes only! Just be sure to link back to us so that we get proper credit for our work. Have questions? Email us at [email protected].