In our quest for sustainable farms, buildings, and overall living, we don’t talk much about sustainable love.

When I’m asked what the key ingredient to a long and happy relationship is, the practicality of my answer – consistent investments – startles some people. As with any sustainable system, we need to maintain a positive balance in order to accommodate unforeseen and inevitable withdrawals. It’s that simple.

Couples who’ve been together a long time often yearn for that dating high when we anticipated the need of our beloved and jumped to fill it better and quicker than the next suitor. We wonder how to get that feeling back and we yearn for a time when our partner asked, “Not what I could do for him, but what he could do for me.” (Where is that guy?) If each of us sought to give and understand, then everybody would feel attended to.

Many of us continue to do things for love, just not for one another. Most parents will stop at nothing to bring a smile to our child’s face. Why stop at anything to bring that smile to our partner’s? If we’d wait on line to sign up for window painting, why begrudge our spouse opening night at a movie? If we’d drive an hour for a child’s soccer practice, why not do the same to meet our spouse for dinner? How do we find the time to walk with our dogs but not one another?

An awkward silence often follows this question in marriage therapy: “On a daily basis, how significant is your significant other?” Most partners claim they would do anything for their spouse, but some choose not to honor simple weekly requests made at the end of our sessions. It’s hard to understand why someone would withhold from his loved one the opportunity to be happy. For most, a life void of daily giving seems to be more of a habit than an intention.

I’ve heard amazing engagement stories over the years … from filling a car with balloons, to proposing on the big screen at a sporting event, to asking a pilot to announce the big question in flight. Those are the big bangs that give us a story to remember. But after the balloons deflate, the stadium lights go out, and the plane descends, it’s the ordinary gifts that make an extraordinary difference.

Ben collects quarters all week for Mary to use in the meter at work. Joe picks up Sara’s favorite sandwich whenever he’s in their old neighborhood. Jack takes Sandy’s car for gas and a weekly car wash. Andy took a train into the city last snow storm to pick up Sharon’s car so she could avoid a messy commute. On his way to work every morning, Bruce leaves a note in Lois’ store. He’s been writing these notes at 4:30 in the morning for over 30 years! Why do we do these little things for love? Because it’s the day-changing gifts we exchange that make a life-changing difference.