J is for Just One Thing: How to Focus On Just One Thing to Create Big Relationship Results

The path to more is less...The One Thing sits at the heart of success and is the starting point for achieving extraordinary results
— Gary Keller

Relationships take work but that doesn’t mean you have to be drowning in doing a ton of complicated things. That would be a recipe for burnout and disaster. Instead you want to focus on one thing at a time and keep it small and simple. This allows for consistency, which is a key piece to creating and maintaining more connection in your relationship.

As the author of The One Thing Gary Keller wrote, “The path to more is less...The One Thing sits at the heart of success and is the starting point for achieving extraordinary results”. For extraordinary results in your relationship it is important to focus on the one thing that will make all other things easier or irrelevant. Doing too many things often leads to little or no impact, and frustration and hopelessness right along with it. So you want to focus on one thing at a time to create consistent and reliable change in your relationship.

Step 1) Pick One Thing


The best way to activate the One Thing mentality is to, you guessed it, pick just one thing to focus on. You want to pick the One Thing that will have each of you feel more loved, appreciated, and a priority this week. No matter how “ridiculous” it may seem to you because it may not be your love langauge, if your partner says they need it to feel loved then by golly you best do it, and vice versa. Of course if this request is to go steal something from the nearby Target this would be a bit too ridiculous...

Step 2) Keep it Small

When embracing the One Thing principle you want to make sure that the thing you are focusing on is just the right size to make a loving impact but also not too big that it’s hard to follow through. This means something you can commit to consistently over the week. If the shared One Thing feels too big, negotiate with your partner to break it into something smaller.

How do you know if the step is not too small, not too big but the “just right” size? Use a “Doable Scale” and ask yourself if on a scale of 0-10, 0 having you say “that is totally easy and would take no effort” and 10 being “oh man I can’t even imagine keeping up with that each day this next week”, you want it to be at about the 3-4 range. This would have you say something similar to “Oh yeah that will take some effort but I could totally keep up with that this week”.

Step 3) Keep it Clear

When talking about your One Thing, it is crucial to keep it clear and focused. Vague and ambiguous needs means your partner won’t understand what you need and won’t be able to do the One Thing. This will leave you not feeling loved and will leave both of you frustrated.

Putting it All Together

Let’s say your partner picked “keeping the entire kitchen clean” as their One Thing (step 1) and this felt like a 7 to you on the 0-10 scale mentioned above. After some discussion you both landed on “doing the dishes” as something that has your partner still feel the love but is a 4 on the 0-10 scale, so will take some effort but still doable (step 2). You then both discuss further what “doing the dishes means” (step 3). Is it unloading and loading the dishes into the dishwasher? Does this include washing the pots and pans? Does it feel ok to leave some dishes in the sink or is a clear sink desired? Your request may seem obvious but you want to help eachother out about what you mean and not try to mind read what each other means about their One Thing.

Making it Happen

Once you agree to the One Thing you’ll do for your partner and your partner commits to the One Thing they will do for you, you both now need to do what it takes to make it happen, no excuses. Sticking with it means you are creating consistency. Consistency means your partner feels constantly loved by you. Consistently loved = relationship happiness.

If your partner asks you to be in charge loading and unloading the dishwasher this week as their One Thing and you have agreed to it, you need to do whatever you need to do to make that happen. Set an alarm on your phone, do it when you wake up in the middle of the night to go pee, put a sticky note on your visor in your car… you get the idea.

Check in with each other each week regarding your one thing and adjust if you need to. Sometimes you may have the same One Thing for weeks in a row, or it may change from week to week. When checking in with each other, it’s best to pick a consistent check-in time, like Sunday morning over coffee (remember, consistency is key!). Also, give each other some leniency as you establish this new habit in your relationship of making sure you and your partner feels loved and prioritized. You’re human so perfection is not the focus.

Key Things To Remember:

  • Don’t do all the things - keep it to One Thing at a time

  • Keep it simple by staying at a 3-4 on the 0-10 “Doable” scale

  • Keep it Clear - vague and ambiguous needs lead to frustration for both partners

  • Commit to the One Thing and do what you need to do to make it happen, no excuses.

  • Be consistent to reliably show your partner that you love them, and vice versa