Valentine’s Day was the first holiday to roll around when my husband and I started dating, this will be our 27th. He made quite an impression that first year with gifts, perfume, flowers, dinner … our relationship was new, and he was in wooing-mode. We were married later that year, and as usual, enthusiasm for Valentine’s Day diminished in the years following. For us, it became less about individual gifts and more about celebrating the relationship, but that evolved from hard lessons learned. Unlike birthdays, Mother’s Day or Christmas, we haven’t made a big deal about Valentine’s Day, but we haven’t ignored it either.
As a young couple, we had some misconceptions about love like so many do. We would have told you we were “in love” and all that, but there was still insecurity. It was a performance based mental tally sheet with “what have you done for me lately” kind of expectations. Self-focused, which isn’t love at all. This meant we were primed for the ugly Valentine’s Day (or anniversary) arguments over the pressure he felt (feeling obligated to make me feel special) and the emotional needs I sought to have met (prove you love me). Been there? It’s awful. It took some time, but we realized if we were going to keep our commitment to “love and cherish” we had to let go of the score card and love each other selflessly and consistently, beyond any holiday or anniversary hoopla.
As believers, we embrace the example of God’s love for us—sacrificial, enduring, serving-oriented, unconditional—a tall order for self-centered human types; our bent is to satisfy ourselves, so the journey is paved with grace. Ultimately, to love is to value and esteem. Isn’t that what we all long for on Valentine’s Day and every other day?
7 Ways to Love Your Valentine Beyond the Holiday
1. Discover their love language at 5 Love Languages and be purposeful in showing love in a way they most receive it. I can’t be sure at what point in our married life we stumbled across this concept, but it was incredibly helpful. I realized receiving gifts was one of his primary love languages while recognizing I struggled with how to do that well. I was perfectly happy to buy something for the house and call it a gift, he was not. For him, if it wasn’t personal, it wasn’t a gift. For me, gifts were nice but didn’t necessarily communicate love, so it was hard for me to connect the significance for others. (I have since identified the friends in my life this matters to as well.) This insight has helped me love others in ways they were apt to receive it, even though it didn’t come naturally. We tend to love the way we want to be loved, which helps identify our own love language.
2. Make a list of all the things you love about them or what you admire in them. Words of affirmation is a primary love language for one of our daughters. One day during her mid-teens, distraught and crying, she concluded “they hate me” as she described a conflict with friends. The deeper story revealed they had criticized her ideas for a project; someone may have even called her stupid or something else that made it personal (I can’t remember the finer details). While it appeared as though she was over reacting, these were real tears and sobs. It was then I remembered this teaching on love languages. One of her primary love languages is words of affirmation. For her, affirming words communicate love. Conversely, harsh and hurtful words communicated hate. This was a biggie for her, and me as a parent. Understanding why the situation affected her so deeply helped her navigate the criticism (and mean people) more effectively. As a parent, it enabled me to coach and encourage more effectively as well. Does your spouse tend to hang on to something negative you’ve said? Do they need to hear “I love you” more than you do? These are clues.
3. Choose an activity they enjoy and offer to join them (even if you think it’s stupid). Quality time is my primary love language. Going for a walk, working in the yard, having coffee, attentive conversation, gathering friends for dinner, road trips, cooking together … the key here is—together. Fortunately, it is one my husband can relate to although it isn’t necessarily primary to him.
4. If you get home before they do, spend 5 minutes setting up music to play and light candles. Acts of service is the other primary love language for my sweetheart. I figured this out by noticing how he most often expressed his love for me, though it took a conflict for it to dawn on me. We needed a new dog door installed. He and I have always done D.I.Y. remodel projects in our home, so installing a dog door was not a big deal, right? Unless, of course, it is done as an act of service for someone (me) who wanted it done. The conflict came when he finished the job, and my response was something like, “great, thanks.” (In my mind the box was checked and we could move on). Love language or not, it’s never a good idea to take things people do for granted, which, in this case, I did. It took him asking me two or three times to come look at it, and subsequent references to it, for me to catch on that this was an act of service (or love). I got it. This is only one example, but as I paid attention it became clear how simple acts of service for him communicated love in return.
5. Do something for them that they ordinarily do for you. If acts of service is a primary love language for your spouse, even small gestures of making life easier are deeply appreciated. Cook a meal, scrape the snow off their car, balance the checkbook, take out the trash, walk the dog, wash dishes, fold laundry—it all counts. A friend of mine once argued with her husband about the way he liked his sock drawer arranged. For a while, she just finished the rest of the laundry and left the socks for him to deal with as he wished. While she didn’t understand it or even agree with it, she decided to fold his socks and honor his preference. You guessed it; he felt valued and loved because she did it for him, not because his socks were arranged in rows by color.
6. Rub their feet while they tell you about their day or offer a back rub. Physical touch is a primary love language for our youngest, and even though I hug all my children, she can linger in a hug unlike anyone else I know. She was always asking for head rubs or a foot massage and she was happy to massage our shoulders when we were tense. Even now as a college student, she is quick to hold my hand when we walk together. To touch her is to love her. For couples, non-sexual touching is incredibly important for those who feel connection and love through physical closeness. Hugs, hand-holding, sitting close, stroking their hair, or leaning into a snuggle is like air to their lungs.
7. Give them something, especially something meaningful. A friend of mine calls them “presents people” and they can spot each other a mile away. All of the people I know who receive love when receiving gifts also love giving them, and they are great gift-givers. Often the wrapping is as important as the gift, so take the time for thoughtful presentation too. As I mentioned before, this was an area I had to be purposeful about with my husband. It was hard for me to overcome my tendency to think fulfilling practical needs was an appropriate gift. I was the one who was fine with garage doors for our anniversary; he would have no part of that. Then there was the Christmas I suggested we use the money for our gifts and give it to a local charity. He is a generous man, but that was not happening either. Or the birthday I wanted to plan a trip to see family as our gifts (our birthdays are the same month) … nope. It isn’t that gifts are all that’s important, but as a love language, it hits a sweet spot like nothing else.
I do hope your Valentine’s Day is filled with sweet expressions of love and that you truly feel loved. I’d also love to hear from you, so please share your tips or advice for celebrating love in the comments!