Celebrating your relationship without hitting the bank account

QGAvI3qIt’s that time of year again where the cost of flowers equate to gold bullion and we start seeing television ads for chocolate dipped strawberries and giant teddy bears that will “show your love” for your significant other.

Okay, so if you’re like me and not into the whole Valentine’s Day thing you still need to be aware that Valentine’s Day is this Friday. If you weren’t aware (Gentlemen, I’m speaking to you) your significant other is and may be expecting some kind of acknowledgement of Valentine’s Day. With an average of $18 billion spent every February on flowers, chocolates, gifts, and restaurants in the United States, a lot of people are obviously into the day.

For some, expensive gifts just don’t work with the budget. For my wife and me, we don’t do flowers as they end up dead in the vase by the following week and we would rather celebrate our love (and spend our money) in other ways.

So why not use the occasion to really celebrate love?

Here are a few ways to say “I love you” during this heart-stamped month that don’t require a credit card.

Communication Counts. Most couples will agree that communication is the backbone of a good relationship, and research has backed up these beliefs. While most of us know this, many couples never have learned to communicate when it counts most.

Really listen to your partner. That means giving them your open-minded, genuinely interested attention. Take the time to fully absorb what they’re saying. Body language, word choice, tone of voice—you’ll be amazed at what you may have been missing. If you don’t understand what they have said, ask for clarification. You do have to offer your full attention when talking, so put down that phone, game controller, or remote and listen to them.

Offer your full presence when you’re together. As I mentioned above, don’t be looking at your phone or watching the game on the TV over their shoulder. Resist the usual complaining about work or daily activities. Most couples tend to slip into their usual conversation mode, similar to autopilot where conversations really only focus on surface level topics. Even my wife and I get into this rut where it sounds more like a staff meeting discussing the week’s events and challenges, then planning future activities. It is no fun and can eventually erode any relationship.

Value the little things your partner does for you—and do some in return. I challenge each member to do something for their partner (at least weekly) that doesn’t depend on what their partner does or does not do. It doesn’t have to be a big gesture, but something that they will notice and hopefully at least acknowledge and reciprocate. If you are on the receiving end, let your partner know how their gesture made you feel.

Empathy. It’s a necessary ingredient for healthier relationships of all kinds. When listening to your partner, empathize with his or her experience, even when it’s painful. Put yourself in their shoes and acknowledge how that would make you feel. If your partner wants help with the situation usually they will ask for your opinion or suggestion. Most times your partner just wants you to listen to them.

valentines_day_xkcd_mmxIf you still are going to spend the money on gifts or going out, keep in mind you don’t have to save up your romantic ideas for a few days each year.

Regularly have date nights. Couples tend to get into a routine and only celebrate their relationship on anniversaries and Valentine’s Day. If you are married, think back to what you did when you were dating. Do you remember how you felt then? Why not keep that up after your wedding?

So whatever this Valentine’s Day brings for you, first and foremost, don’t forget it, but do things for your significant other year round to help build and maintain your relationship. If you are planning on flowers and other gifts, budget for them well ahead of February 14th.  Don’t wait for the last minute where you at the mercy of retailers.

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