On the way into work this morning, I was listening to a radio show with the hosts discussing great Valentine's gift ideas: shaving kits, flowers to plant, perfumes and lotions, homemade cakes and macaroons. As a couples and family therapist, I can think of things your loved ones might prefer. Here are a few suggestions, and most carry the benefit of being absolutely free.
Spend time together - Whether it's your partner, your child, or your parent, planning a surprise day out or evening together is a wonderful gift of your time. It says, "You are a priority in my life," and "You're important."
Take initiative- Be the one who makes dinner, plans a date, finishes a home project, washes the dishes or the car, weeds the garden , or initiates affection. Doing anything sweet without being asked means so much.
Honesty- Be direct and honest with your loved ones. Communicate if you are upset, don't freeze others out. Don't keep secrets. Be honorable with your word.
Be faithful- Make your commitment to your partner meaning something. Set boundaries with others. Protect and nurture your primary relationship. If you have an issue with your partner have the courage and honor to talk with them directly about it, not to others.
Own your own part- Apologize if you overreact or behave badly. Make the effort to do better. Manage your own stress and anger by learning to meditate or quiet your mind. Take out your own mental trash.
Express yourself- Make your partner and loved ones a card or write them a letter that details exactly what you love about them. Be specific, and cite examples. Say "I love you" often, be generous!
Try to see it their way- In every relationship their are two perspectives, theirs and yours.
Make an effort to shift out of your perspective and see things from their perspective.
Have some fun together- Most couples and most families don't have nearly enough fun together. Clear the calendar for a regular date night and a regular family fun night, game night, movie night or whatever might be a blast for your loved ones.
Listen- More than you speak. So few people do it. Your partner or family member will be very appreciative. Intentionally focus on your loved one. Put down the phone and distractions. There is no better gift than your full attention.
Touch- Give a heartfelt hug or a kiss and watch your loved one light up. Hug like you mean it. Give your partner a back massage. Hold hands. Touch your partner lovingly as you pass them around the house. Children do better with loving, appropriate touch. Seniors especially need to be lovingly hugged.
Give compliments- Sincere and unsolicited compliments feel wonderful. Let your loved one know what you value about them or appreciate about them. Be specific.
Leave love notes- Put them in your child's lunch or your partner's briefcase, desk, closet or pillow. Teenagers get such undeserved bad press and like love notes, too.
Forgive- Don't hold grudges. Talk it out. Show your loved one you can work through difficult feelings like hurt, resentment and anger and make repairs.
Tiny little gifts- Big, splashy valentines gifts are nice, but how about a tiny, sweet little gift that says I thought of you on an ordinary Monday? It could be a piece of chocolate, a flower or a pack of gum, but what matters is the unprompted thoughtfulness.
Think creatively, and make demonstrating your love something that goes beyond Valentine's Day. These little signs of love are what make living worthwhile, and giving is every bit as satisfying as receiving them. In life, it's interesting that many of the most valuable gifts can't be bought. Being in loving relationships is essential for living your life well everyday.