Let’s talk about Valentine’s Day! Do you roll your eyes at this “Hallmark holiday” or do you see it as an opportunity to strengthen your relationship? 

We learned in childhood that when it comes to giving gifts, it’s the thought that counts. Grand romantic gestures can be nice, but they aren’t necessary to keep you and your partner connected—and you might find that schedule and finances make those difficult anyway.  

Little acts of kindness go a long way toward keeping a marriage strong. Even if you and your spouse are struggling—in fact, especially if you are struggling—putting in a little bit of effort to express affection and appreciation is a smart thing to do. And you don’t have to wait for a special occasion to do it. 

So if you want to buy your sweetie a big box of chocolates or a bouquet of red roses on Valentine’s Day, go right ahead! But might I suggest thinking outside the proverbial heart-shaped box? With a little creativity and care, you can give a thoughtful, personalized gift that will mean the world to them. 

(If you are separated, divorced, or struggling in your marriage, be sure to scroll down past the list for a special note from me that I hope you’ll find helpful.) 

Here are 14 ideas for how to show your sweetie a little love this Valentine’s Day without breaking the bank…and some are easy to pull off in a pinch if you’re running short on time! 

  1. Complete a chore, run an errand, or cross something off the honey-do list that you know would give your partner relief or make their life easier. 
  1. Put together a basket of food and drink you know they’ll like and have a picnic. (It doesn’t have to be fancy, and it doesn’t have to be dinner. Think pastries at sunrise, simple snacks at the beach, or even takeout from your favorite place eaten on a blanket at the park.) 
  1. On individual slips of paper, write down different things you love and appreciate about your spouse. Put them in a box or creative container so they can be pulled out and read whenever they need a pick-me-up. (Consider writing 30 of them for a month of love, or 52 of them for a weekly boost, or go crazy and write 365 of them!)  
  1. Make all the arrangements to go somewhere or do something you know they really enjoy but isn’t necessarily your favorite. Make sure you’re pleasant and enthusiastic the entire time so they don’t have to worry about whether you are having a good time. 
  1. Make a simple scavenger hunt around the house and yard, ending with a small gift, a meal or dessert, a bubble bath, or something else you know your spouse will appreciate. 
  1. Ask your partner’s friends, family, and maybe even co-workers to write short notes of appreciation, admiration, or fond memories and present them creatively. If you’re digitally inclined, get videos instead. 
  1. Draw or paint each other’s portraits. Don’t take it too seriously. Have fun with it! Not in the mood to be artistic? Write each other love letters or romantic poems and read them out loud. 
  1. Make a visit somewhere that brings back good memories and reminisce—maybe where you had your first date, where you got engaged, where you first realized you were in love, or where you had a lot of fun together. 
  1. Pull out the photo albums and take a walk down memory lane looking at pictures from your relationship. You might even go further back to look at photos from before you met. Tell each other some stories you haven’t shared before. 
  1. Put together a time capsule. Prepare ahead of time by getting a container but then work together to decide what to put in it, where to put it, and when you’ll open it again. 
  1. Write a couple’s bucket list. Take the extra step of scheduling and committing to crossing off at least one item on the list. 
  1. Make out in the backseat of the car like teenagers! 
  1. Make their favorite meal or dessert. (Bonus: Ask the kids ahead of time to do the dishes afterward or let the dishes sit until tomorrow if you want.)  
  1. Pray together. Ask God to strengthen your relationship and your love for each other. Ask for a united spirit of mutual respect even during the challenging times. 

This is just a short list to get you started. The important thing when it comes to expressing your love is that it be sincere, heartfelt, and selfless. The amount of thought you put into a gift is far more important than the amount of money you put into it. 

A special note: Every holiday can feel more bitter than sweet when you’re separated, divorced, or going through a rough patch in your marriage. At this point in the year, you’ve finally gotten some distance from the intensity of Thanksgiving and Christmas, and then along comes Valentine’s Day, often bringing with it difficult memories and emotions. Remember that this is just one day, and it will pass—as will the feelings that can make the day hard. Write in a journal, talk to friends, and stay busy. Don’t dwell on the negative. You might want to stay off social media for a day or two also until all the lovey-dovey posts from friends subside. 

I know from experience close to my own heart that Valentine’s Day can be very difficult for those who are recently separated or have other painful memories about being forgotten by their spouse on that day. One of my daughters was scheduled to be married on Valentine’s Day many years ago and the wedding was called off several weeks prior. Every year when that day rolls around, there are thoughts and conversations about how everything changed. She remains in faith for the right person and right time, recognizing that something better is ahead in God’s perfect timing. I respect her for choosing to be content in the season of life she is in and for all the love and caring she shows to others in the meantime. 

One more tip for parents: If you have children, I’d like to encourage you to help them put together a Valentine’s Day card or gift for their other parent. While it might be painful for you to help them do so, it can also be very therapeutic as you step outside your own feelings of loss, hurt, or anger and instead think about things through your children’s eyes. It is so valuable for them to see your caring heart toward their other parent. It’s critical for their development and emotional wellbeing to sense peace between the two of you. As you support your child in expressing love and deepening their relationship with that parent, you’re giving them a wonderful gift—and at the same time, you’re giving yourself a gift as well. 

Explore your no-court divorce options and the prenuptial process in Santa Rosa and Sonoma County and schedule a confidential consultation with divorce lawyer Jeanne Browne. With more than 30 years of experience helping couples divorce without court through mediation and collaborative practice, she will give you compassionate legal advice on your issues related to family law, divorce, and prenuptial/postnuptial agreements. Click here to schedule a meeting.  

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