From a study on relationships: “The loss of affection, not the emergence of interpersonal issues, sets couples on the path towards divorce.”

Couples who remain happily married “showed less ambivalence, expressed negative feelings less often, and viewed their mate more positively. Most important, these feelings remained stable over time.”

How about those couples whose marriages ended in divorce?

There was a “loss of intimacy,” in the sense that when people first become close “they feel a tremendous sense of validation from each other, as if their partner is the only other person who sees things as they do.” This sense of intimacy and specialness to each other was lost. “This loss sent the relationship into a downward spiral, leading to increased bickering and fighting, and to the collapse of the union.”

How was intimacy cultivated?

It was through all the “little things” in day-to-day life: spending time together, complimenting each other, small gifts, thoughtful comments or acts. Intimacy was overwhelmingly built by little actions or words that were repeated regularly in everyday interaction. These “small” things ensured that each spouse understood how much he or she was cared for.

I met an elderly, loving couple who had been married for many, many years. I wondered: What kept their relationship fresh? What sustained their warmth and tenderness over time?

Did they give each other special, luxurious items on birthdays, anniversaries, or commemorative events? Did they have grand gestures of self-sacrifice that kept them so close?

Not at all. It was the constant, ordinary gestures that permeated every aspect of their relationship. It was the small acts of kindness throughout their day. Their phone calls to say, “I’m thinking of you.” Offers to bring each other a hot cup of coffee or a fuzzy pair of slippers, or to wash the dishes left in the sink. The notes on the fridge to remind the other of something that was important for them.

The Torah portion of Eikev begins with the verse: “It will be because [eikev] you will heed these ordinances and keep them, that G‑d will keep for you the covenant and the kindness that He swore to your forefathers. He will love you and bless you and multiply you . . . ”(Deut. 7:12–13)

In this verse, G‑d is teaching us how we can keep our relationship with Him alive and thriving throughout our long and difficult exile. Several commentaries explain the interesting usage of the word eikev, which literally means “because” but also means a “heel.”

Rashi comments:Eikev, the Hebrew word for “because,” literally means “heel.” If you will heed the minor commandments that a person [usually] tramples with his heels [i.e., which a person treats as being of minor importance].”

Our commitment to Torah should permeate us entirely, even our heel—the lowest and the least sensitive part of the person. Our relationship with G‑d should not be confined to the holy days of the year or to certain “holy” hours we devote to prayer and study, but should also embrace our everyday activities.

Mitzvot, means “connections.” Every mitzvah unites us with G‑d, irrespective of any perceived difference between major, “head” mitzvot or minor, “heel” ones because both are His will.

The word eikev also alludes to ikveta di-meshicha, the last generation of exile, which is called “the heels of Moshiach.” Like the heel, we are spiritually the lowest generation, and the darkness of exile is most intense. But in this generation, the footsteps—heels—of Moshiach can already be heard.

This is the generation that will “hearken to these laws.”

Our relationship began much like a dynamic courtship. The Jewish people were “infatuated” with G‑d, with His power and might in freeing us from our Egyptian exile and with His overwhelming loftiness in presenting us with His Torah.

But then, with our continuing familiarity, we let down our guard. There was “a loss of the initial levels of love and affection,” that sent the relationship into a downward spiral. We became less sensitive to His wants, and our behavior no longer reflected the same nuances of care.

Relationships thrive through gestures of love and affection repeated in regular interactions. When the relationship is stressed, during this darkness of exile, we must focus on keeping the connection, through daily “small” gestures.

These small things send the message that this relationship is the most meaningful thing in our lives.