Let’s face it, Valentine’s Day gets a bad rap. Many feel that it’s a capitalist construct invented by the greeting card industry to convince us that true displays of love and affection come preprinted with long-stem red roses and a box of crappy chocolates on the side. And I don’t necessarily disagree.
I’ve honestly never been a big Valentine’s Day fan. There’s so much pressure and expectation. In fact, on Valentine’s Day each year, my husband and I usually compete to see who can pick out a card with the worst pun and then eat double cheeseburgers off the nice dishes with a glass of red wine and call it a night. Because, honestly, Valentine’s Day shouldn’t be the one day of the year that we express how much we love each other. We should be Valentines-ing 365!
But then I wonder, are we being a bit too self-righteous? Is this attitude causing us to miss the point? At the end of the day, if you’re a human being in a relationship with another human being and you’ve been together for a while, chances are you don’t display an outpouring of love every single day.
So what’s the harm in a calendar reminder to tell your partner how much they mean to you? A date that nudges us to spend quality time together, appreciating how much the other person means to us. In an era when we are trying to “have it all,” when we are constantly plugged in, attempting to keep up with the 24-hour news cycle, maintaining friendships, and growing our careers, it feels like a small victory if we remember to floss at night, much less showcase love and devotion each day.
So let’s make a deal. If you are in a relationship, feel free to skip Valentine’s Day this year, but only if you do these four things all year long—every single day.
01. Deliver daily words of love.
Of course, saying “I love you” is an essential, but over the years it doesn’t carry quite the same weight as it did the first time you said it. Particularly if your partner’s love language is words of affirmation. Instead, try focusing in on the why of love and communicating that to your partner. “I love it when you _____.” “When you abc, it makes me feel xyz.” Did something that happened in your day make you think of your spouse fondly? Tell them! Sometimes even a simple text message from across the room saying “you look incredible tonight” is enough. Make it a daily habit to compliment, thank, value, and recognize your significant other.
02. Surprise each other.
According to experts on Marriage.com, one key way to add romance to a relationship is spontaneity. This can be anything from booking a last-minute weekend getaway or staycation to an unexpected gift just because. Maybe it’s picking up your spouse’s favorite candy when you go to the grocery store. It doesn’t have to be extravagant, just a gesture that says, “I was thinking about you.” In their book Surprise: Embrace the Unpredictable and Engineer the Unexpected, Tania Luna and LeeAnn Renninger say that surprise is an integral part of bringing vitality into our lives and allows us to live with added wonder. Good surprises release high levels of dopamine, the neurotransmitter in our brain that controls the reward and pleasure center. So try to think of little ways to surprise your spouse day to day, and you’ll make their dopamine levels go crazy!
03. Continue to date each other (yes—even if you’re married).
This can be anything from flirting to actual dates. As relationships flourish and grow, it’s important to still foster the closeness that formed at the beginning. Dr. Jamie Williamson is an advocate for establishing a weekly or monthly date night. She recommends making sure it’s affordable (no one wants a fun night out causing financial stress), alternating who is in charge of the planning, putting cell phones away, and going into the date with topics of conversation in mind. “Institutionalizing date night is not only fun, it can protect your marriage from deterioration, and it can keep you and your spouse more healthy, happy, and able to manage life’s stressors,” she says.
04. Prioritize intimacy.
Intimacy can mean a lot of things to different people. It can be emotional closeness, physical touch, spiritual bonding, and, of course, sexual expression—all of which are essential for a relationship to last a lifetime. Whatever shape intimacy takes its form in your life—which will certainly depend on what stage your relationship is at—it shouldn’t be allowed to fall by the wayside. According to a study conducted by psychologist Robert J. Sternberg, intimacy ranks as the highest factor for marital satisfaction. So, you can increase the daily levels of intimacy in your relationship by setting aside time for emotional conversations, making a point to hug and kiss your partner, and establishing how frequently you’d like to have sex. (Spoiler alert: There is no “correct” number.) Whatever you do should work for both of you and will only deepen your connection over time.
No matter what you do, it’s never a bad time to say “I love you,” even if it is just another retail-sanctioned holiday.