Whenever Valentine’s Day rolls around each year, it’s when most people take the time to show some major love to their partner. Be it with flowers, chocolates, jewelry, or other major purchases, you’re likely to see plenty of people in the check-out line buying last-minute gifts to show appreciation.
But these big gifts aren’t really necessary. And we don’t need to limit the celebration of our relationships for a few days out of the year.
It’s been years since my husband, Frank, and I actually celebrated Valentine’s Day as a Hallmark holiday. We don’t ignore it, but we usually celebrate on the small side. A card always happens, but gifts are rare, though he did surprise me last year with flowers and a bracelet, paired with the sweetest card I’ve read from him. I literally cried, y’all.
But the bracelet and flowers weren’t the reason I cried. It was the simple presentation of something where Frank explained that I had value—that I meant something to him. But he’s pretty good at showing me that all year long.
There are plenty of ways to say a lot about your love for you partner without spending a big chunk of change one day out of the year.
A few years ago, after the birth of our first child, I went down a personal journey on improving my relationship using “The Love Dare.” Most of the suggestions put the burden of showing love on the individual participating in the daily dares.
What do each of those dares suggest?
Showing love in small ways. Inexpensive ways. Ways that outlast cut flowers or candies or chocolates. Ways that outshine even the sparkle of jewelry.
Granted, as milspouses we aren’t always in the same geographic location as our partners. We can’t always physically be together due to field time, TDY, deployment, training, etc. Sometimes, the spouses of deployed service members are the best at making their partner feel loved. If you’ve ever prepped a care package for your spouse, think about the many times you’ve bought something special, something you know they’re missing, tucked a few love letters or children’s drawings into a box, made sure to say that extra “I love you” that you know they’re longing to hear.
You’re ahead of the curve. Take that mindset, and expand it for everyday.
But for the rest of you, you may be asking, “Where do I start?”
Here are small gestures that can make a big impact at showing your partner love:
1. Do little things that make their life easier or better.
Don’t overthink this. On the weekends, when Frank is usually home in the mornings, he will brew the coffee while I get the kids up and make me a cup. Most times, he brings it to me or leaves it on the sink for after I’ve had a shower. It’s minor, but it’s a sweet gesture. If I’m doing laundry, it’s as simple as asking Frank if he needs something washed (he usually does his own laundry).
If your partner is sick, pick up medications and do what you can to lighten their load of the housework while they recuperate. If your partner had a busy day, order a meal so there’s no cooking for clean-up. If it’s been a long week, don’t make any plans for the weekend (unless it involves staying in PJs and watching movies).
2. Show gratitude
I don’t mean you need to say “thank you” every time your spouse unloads the dishwasher or does things he or she should do as a partner in life. But when you’re frazzled because you’re prepping for a PCS, your kids are in whiny mode, and the dog chewed the corner of the couch, show your gratitude when your spouse takes out the full trash bag or does something else on your to-do list without you asking. Thank them for making your life just a little bit easier.
3. Perform small gestures that show you’re in a partnership.
My two oldest children attend two different schools. When he can, Frank takes one child to one school while I take the other. It shortens my morning and means I only have to get two children ready instead of all three. On weekends, we often find ourselves cooking dinner together (sometimes absentmindedly), each of us taking charge of something. One of us will wash dishes while the other dries them, lightening the load for both of us.
The short explanation: Do something helpful without being asked.
4. Tuck a love note into a bag or leave it beside the bed.
Any time Frank leaves for an extended period, I send him off with a handwritten letter. For deployments, it
was a few pages. For extending training or field time, it might be a post-it. Seriously. But there is almost always a handwritten note letting him know I’m thinking of him. Sometimes I hide a few in his gear to find randomly, while other times I hand them to him before he goes.
On the night I returned from a solo trip to Denmark after Christmas, I went up to take a shower and Frank had left a glass of wine on my bedside table with a sweet note. It was two sentences. But it, combined with the gesture, warmed my heart.
5. Make the time for quality time.
Every week, when we can, we schedule a date night. Almost every single one of them is spent at home once the kids are asleep. We stock up on our favorite snacks and watch a movie together. We play a board game like The Game of Life or a trivia game. Sometimes we simply pour a couple of drinks and sit outside around a fire and talk to each other. It’s a small moment together, where we’re doing the same thing, and making some sort of a connection.
6. Discover your Love Language and use it.
Frank and I are fortunate. Our love languages are the same: Physical touch followed by quality time. It means that we both feel loved in the same way, which means it’s easy for us to show love to each other. Not all couples are like that. To find out your Love Language, you can take the quiz here. It only takes a few minutes. Then, you can work to show love in a way that corresponds to your partner’s love language. These are sure-fire ways to easily show your partner you love them—in the exact way that will make them feel loved.
7. Offer small surprises
Sometimes, Frank comes home from the store with my favorite bottle of wine or my favorite snack. Sometimes I’m out shopping and remember he could use some new socks or underwear or toiletries and I toss them in the cart. It isn’t flowers, cards, poetry, or jewelry, but it shows us that we were thinking about each other.
My friend, Jen, says that her fiancé will sometimes go out of his way to pick up her favorite ice cream. “It’s little things that don’t take a ton of effort,” she said.
8. Show affection when parting and when coming back together.
Give each other a hug, kiss, high-five, fist bump, pat on the butt, secret handshake, whatever, whenever you leave each other or greet each other. Tossing in an “I love you” goes a long way, too.
AWN Assistant Editor Angie says that her husband is a night owl, and she tends to go to bed before he does. “He always comes in to say good night and tuck me in. It sounds childish to say, ‘tuck me in,’ but I love it so much,” she said.
9. Share your feelings about your partner.
This can make some people feel uncomfortable, especially since these sorts of grand exclamations of love don’t happen much anymore. Again, keep it simple.
If verbalizing it is difficult for you, write a special letter. Buy a card and write a sweet note telling your partner that you love them and appreciate them, but most importantly, tell them why.
10. Talk about the future together.
My friend Katy made a great point when we were discussing this piece. She said that talking about the future “is a subtle reminder that he still sees me by his side whether we are talking about five years down the road or thirty.”
This tells your partner that he or she is a permanent fixture in your life. It sure makes a person feel loved and validated, knowing that you see them by your side.
11. Provide comfort without judgment.
It’s easy to shrug off how someone feels about a certain situation. Maybe the cherished memento broken during the PCS isn’t the worst thing that could have happened. Maybe joining the military was your service member’s choice. But if your partner is bothered by those things, then be there to comfort without judgment.
A few years back, when I was seven months pregnant and our house flooded after a major winter storm, I was devastated. The ceiling in our bedroom had collapsed, the ceiling in the basement was close to doing the same, and water was everywhere. I cried while we walked through the house surveying the damage. Frank wrapped his arms around me and let me cry, telling me how we would figure it out together.
A friend who struggles with anxiety said that her fiancé is there to support her during her anxiety attacks. “Without making me feel embarrassed, he will just let me lay there and cry if I need to. Brush my hair if I need it. Hold me. Whatever I need in that moment.”
12. Learn what your partner needs in the moment.
This can take some real communication, but find out what your partner needs in various scenarios. When he comes home from a long day of work, does he need some quiet for the first 20 minutes? Try to redirect the kids or give him space. Does she get overwhelmed on the weekend when the kids are home and stuck inside? Take the kids out for an hour to give her some time.
For my friend Katy, when she has a rough day, her husband knows exactly what to do: “He has this way of dropping a one-liner that makes me burst out laughing. I sometimes need that reminder to not take life so seriously all the time.”
13. Help your partner reach their goals.
This is a big one, but not something that you can do frequently. I love writing and have been working freelance for the past five years. I don’t get to leave the house to do my work, well, not unless I have child care for my kids. Frank often steps up so I can spend an hour or two writing without interruption. He understands that I need that assistance to keep advancing my career, just like I take on additional work to help him advance in his.
If your spouse has education goals, then go over your finances together to see what you can afford. Look over your partner’s application. Help your partner find scholarships. Be there to wrangle the kids or to cook dinner so your spouse can do homework or finish writing an essay. By doing those things, you show your spouse that their goals are valuable to you, that you care enough about their happiness to help them succeed.
14. Do things that your partner enjoys.
This is a pretty simple one. When planning to spend a day together, let your partner make the choice of what to do and go along with it. You may not be into sports, or sightseeing, or hiking, but grin and bear it for your partner. The flip side to consider: How does it make you feel when your partner goes along with what you want to do, even if you can tell it wouldn’t be his first choice?
Frank and I took a trip to Luxembourg City, Luxembourg; Bastogne, Belgium; and Verdun, France last year. Most of the trip was for him. We visited numerous WWI and WWII battlefields and museums. It isn’t my thing, but it was something he really wanted to see (and I found enjoyment in it anyway!). We did the same in Normandy. He shares what he knows and I (attempt) to let him talk and listen to what he’s saying. History isn’t my favorite thing, but seeing the amount of joy he got out of the experience was enough.
When you do what your partner enjoys, it’s a good bonding moment and an easy way to connect.
This Valentine’s Day, don’t think about what you can do on the actual holiday, but think about how you can make your partner feel loved all throughout the year. As you do small things, your partner will notice and maybe even reciprocate. Either way, you both get to reap the benefits of the connection.
How does your partner make you feel loved? Tell us in the comments!