The least you could do — A minimalist guide to relationships

I had a difficult week awhile back. My boyfriend and I had just set out on our first big trip together (literally, we just got there) when he became sick with the flu. We were in a completely new place, and my understanding of the local language was still quite rough. I was tired and stressed and now had to embark to the store all by myself to get food and medicine — and quickly.

I cleaned, I prepared meals, I sorted out travel details. On top of doing everything for the both of us, I spent most of my downtime by myself, because my boyfriend was mostly just sleeping. Usually when you do a lot for someone, you also get the joy of spending time bonding with them, which refuels you a little. But this week, I was giving him 100% and getting hardly anything in return. It was hard.

In my struggle, I thought about what type of girlfriend I wanted to be. What characteristics did I want to bring to this relationship?

Here’s what I came up with. I listed them so they spell “least”, so they are easy to remember. I told myself, In times of trial, maintaining these characteristics is the least I can do.

  • Loving
  • Encouraging
  • Affectionate
  • Selfless
  • Thoughtful / Tolerant

Now these are intentionally pretty vague, so you can form them to what you feel is important. I’ll share mine with you to give you some ideas.


I might feel tired or angry, but I will respond with a loving tone instead of a harsh one. If I feel that I’m carrying more weight in the relationship, I will choose to act towards him with love regardless of the “score”.


Even when I’m barely holding my own life together, that doesn’t mean I wont still encourage my partner. Everyone needs encouragement, and what I’m dealing with doesn’t take away whatever he’s dealing with.


If you’ve read The 5 Love Languages (I can’t recommend this book highly enough!) then you know that Affection is one of the 5. For me, it’s the most important, and it’s also one that’s pretty easy to return. When someone gives you a hug, it doesn’t take much to hug them back. But what’s more challenging is initiating affection, especially if it’s an aspect of your relationship that has gone lost or that never was a big part to begin with. To me, affection goes along with encouragement, in that a simple hug or hand on the arm can instill a little bit of life back into someone who’s having a down day. And while I think affection can require more vulnerability than some of the other qualities, the benefits outweigh the risks.


This one was especially important to me while I played nurse the week my partner was ill. I was running around catering to his needs (any parent can relate to this feeling I’m sure!) and making his comfort a priority over my own. In moments when I felt it was getting to be too much, I reminded myself that being selfless is a quality I would like to bring to this relationship, and therefore what I was doing was right.

Thoughtful / Tolerant

I started using thoughtful for “T” but later realized tolerant is just as important. Being thoughtful to me means being aware of what my partner might need, and offering it. Examples when he was sick included another glass of water or a foot massage. Day to day examples can include picking up his favorite food at the grocery store or setting out a bottle of sunscreen next to his backpack before a day out with his friends.

Tolerance in my view is patience combined with being loving. It’s not losing my temper on insignificant things and it’s understanding that he might do some things differently than I do — and accepting that that’s perfectly okay. I like to be tolerant of both the situation and, more generally, of who my partner is as a person.

Easier said than done

I want to be clear that while this simple list is the “least” I can do, it’s also a lot to ask! It’s hard to be loving when you’re angry, or to put someone else’s needs ahead of your own. But I use this list as a list of goals or mantras, more than a list of strict requirements. It’s a list that I customized to fit who I want to be in a relationship — who I try to be, whether or not I always succeed.

I invite you to customize the list to make it fit who YOU want to be in a relationship. It wont be intimidating if you customize it to feel right for you.

These characteristics can also apply to non-romantic relationships. You can customize the list again to fit how you’d like to act with your parent or your friend. Or for that matter, yourself!


Decluttering my life has brought me peace of mind and relief from the world around me. There’s nothing like walking into the space you created and knowing you have nothing more than what you need. I write articles to help others create that same feeling for themselves.

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