I didn’t know it at the time but my husband was being “strategic” and not cheap when he proposed to me without an engagement ring on the dock of my family’s cottage in 1988. According to a 2014 Emory University study, couples that spend relatively more money on an engagement ring and wedding run a higher risk of divorce.
Toronto relationship therapist Susan Valentine says, “Grand gestures or gifts can risk replacing genuine connection and intimacy.” Ok, fine. So while my husband doesn’t go for the “sizzle” of a fancy engagement ring, lavish birthday presents (would you believe he takes me at my word when I say I don’t want a fuss), or surprise tickets to Rome, there seems to be enough “steak” in our relationship that keeps it strong.
Let me share ten day-to-day ways to “give” to your partner—and that won’t cost you a cent!
Give a “thank you”. It’s so easy to take our partners for granted, especially when we’ve been together for a while (like my husband and me). Instead, my husband thanks me for my work even if it’s on my side of the domestic ledger, and I try to do the same. No one feels good when his or her work is invisible. “I love you,” sounds nice but “thank you” makes me try even harder.
Give your time. Couples have different interests and hobbies, and my husband and I are no exception. He loves classical music. I love plays. He runs. I like yoga. And the list goes on. But we make an effort to play in each other’s sandbox (even if it bores us silly). I will always be his date at a concert, and he joins me in downward dog. These little sacrifices create shared experiences, and ensure we don’t grow apart.
Give your intellect. New relationships have energy because we try so hard to be fascinating to the other person. Relationships can start to feel creaky when they descend into the minutiae of daily life—“How was work?” “When are you taking your car in for repairs?” “Can you pick up groceries?” But without interesting chatter, passion can wane. I’m trying to stay interesting to myself by reading, writing and taking courses so I can remain interesting to my husband too!
Give your focus. It’s impossible not to get hijacked by technology, and I’m no exception. My mobile used to be the first thing I reached for when I woke up. Now, I make an effort to focus squarely on my husband at key times in the day. I reach for him first in the morning, and put down my device when he walks in the door so I can greet him properly with a kiss. My husband is more important than any “ping”.
Give some mystery. Too many couples veer unwittingly into the “friend zone” by becoming too familiar to each other. My husband and I try to maintain some healthy boundaries, and don’t let our hair down completely. We don’t share everything on our minds, or even share the passwords to our mobile devices. And even though I work from home, I know walking around in sweats too often would be a buzz kill.
Give a fair contribution. Resentment sets in when one partner feels the other is not pulling his or her weight. A friend (who still walks hand-in-hand with her husband after 35 years) says, “We share a lot of the workload of running a household. I do laundry; he does groceries. I handle the bathroom; he is at one with the vacuum.” Figuring out a “fair” (not necessarily “equal”) arrangement minimizes feelings of resentment (a sure-fire passion killer).
Give them a break. Conflict is inevitable when your partner is your best friend, lover, and perhaps your financial partner, co-parent and roommate too. We expect a lot of our partners, but perhaps we should step back more often to consider what they expect of us. And why not give them the benefit of the doubt when conflict arises, or give them a break when they’ve had a tough day and may not be on their best behavior? I’m learning to hug more and snap less (it’s a work in progress).
Give some respect. It’s so hard, especially for women, not to micro-manage. We often expect things to be done the “right way” (which is usually “our” way). After decades of fuming that I could whip up five dishes in the time it took my husband to chop an onion, I realized it was not a competition. I now try to respect his way of doing things, and remind myself that there is no right way to fold laundry or load the dishwasher.
Give “ordinary” intimacy. Creative couples find intimacy in the ordinary. A friend says her husband picks her up from work late at night even though her employer would pay for a cab. His face is the one she wants to see after a long day. My husband and I enjoy “escaping” from our large, extended family during holidays by going grocery shopping together. These ordinary gestures may not sound exciting, but valuable couple-time doesn’t always have to occur in the bedroom!
Give them top billing. It’s tough to put our partners first with so many demands on our time. But, I feel that I’m still #1 when my busy husband makes it a priority to be home for dinner, and then works till midnight afterwards to get his job done. And when I walk past the fancy ice cream store, I will splurge on a bucket of lemon gelato (even though I prefer chocolate) because that’s his favourite.
So is splurging a bad idea? “It’s fun to spoil our partners” says Valentine, “but lavish gifts and gestures are best when they don’t come with any other motive or expectation and demonstrate we ‘see’ our partner for who they really are—for example, if your partner is a musician and you buy them a special edition instrument. That shows you understand and support what’s important to them.”
Bottom line? Sizzle fades fast but those “steak” day-to-day practices can make your relationship a blast!