The Loaf of Bread Test was unwittingly invented by the husband of a friend. He made sandwiches for my friend and himself. There wasn’t much bread left so he made his sandwich with the crusts and gave her the good slices.
It was such a tiny gesture — mundane even. It’s not Insta-worthy, you wouldn’t put it on Facebook and tag your partner in it, and it’s unlikely the producers of The Bachelorette could build a date out of it. But what the sandwich represented to my friend was that after 14 years of marriage, her husband was kind and thoughtful and still wanted more for her than he gave himself.
The Loaf of Bread Test is a metaphor for all the little, unremarkable, yet absolutely vital, gestures that happen every day in a good and healthy relationship.
It’s factoring in your partner’s needs before you make both big and small decisions, from changing jobs to going away with your mates for the weekend.
It’s pulling your weight with domestic work and child care responsibilities. It’s reading your partner’s emotional and physical health and stepping up to do more when required.
It’s putting down your phone and giving your partner your full attention. It’s recognising and celebrating their everyday triumphs and supporting them through their disappointments.
And it’s noticing when your partner puts you first and then expressing your appreciation and gratitude.
I know this all sounds about as romantically exciting as spending Friday night in folding the laundry — especially given that expressions of “true love” are sold to us as big and often public gestures. It’s the aqua boxes and French bubbles for the birthday, the bouquet of flowers delivered to the office for anniversaries, or the occasional surprise holiday in an exotic location.
This is all great, but two or three big gestures a year is unlikely to sustain you if you feel taken for granted, ignored or unimportant for the remaining 363 days.
But don’t take my word for it. Research published last month in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships about what makes people feel loved on a daily basis revealed that a majority of people agree that it’s the little acts of daily compassion that count.
“[T]he top scenarios that came back weren’t necessarily romantic,’ said Dr Saeideh Heshmati from Penn State University who asked 495 people whether or not they thought most people would feel loved in 60 different scenarios. “So it is possible for people to feel loved in simple, everyday scenarios. It doesn’t have to be over-the-top gestures.”
The crucial part of the story about my friend and the loaf of bread is that it was the man who made this micro gesture of kindness to the woman. In our culture, a woman who keeps the crusts for herself is entirely unremarkable. Women have been socialised to give up the good stuff in almost every aspect of their lives.
Mothers, in particular, are celebrated for being self-sacrificing, and meeting other people’s needs before our own. It’s how the saying “burnt chop mother” came about. And it’s why Mother’s Day is marketed as the one day a year we thank mothers for their relentless service and self-sacrifice.
But in a truly satisfying and happy relationship, you both have to want your partner to have the good bread. You both have to want to choose the crusts for yourself, without resentment or point-scoring, but because you love your partner and you want them to have the best.
After the first giddy spark of love is long gone, particularly when you have children and life can at times get laborious, lonely and mundane, there is nothing you can buy, no matter how sparkly or expensive, to make your relationship happy. A happy relationship is built on deeds, on the foundation of everyday acts of kindness.
Women are made out to be mysterious beings, and relationships are frequently presented as a minefield that is almost impossible to navigate. But what women want from their partners is really very simple; it’s to be reminded on a regular basis that we are important enough for our partner to want to give us more than the crumbs.