My wife and I have been married 15 years, and dated for six years prior to marriage. During that time, we’ve had three kids, lived through moves and career changes and great moments and tragedies, and yet we’d still rather spend time with each other than anyone else. I love her in more ways than I can possibly subscribe – best friend, romantic partner, mother to my children, participant and leader in the community… I could go on and on and on.
A big part of that feeling of continued love and closeness after all of these years is that we’ve managed to figure out how to show each other that we love each other in a variety of simple ways. She knows how to make me feel loved, I know how to make her feel loved, and we both do it regularly. Over time, we’ve figured out how to do it without buying gifts for each other or performing huge romantic gestures for each other.
So, why am I posting this almost at the opposite end of the year from Valentine’s Day, the “romantic” holiday? The simple truth is that being romantic and showing someone you love them is a tremendous “everyday” thing to do. There are few things that will solidify a relationship more than simple romantic gestures done unexpectedly but not infrequently.
Here are 30 of these free (or highly inexpensive) gestures that we’ve used throughout the years. I strongly encourage you to try several of these and see how your partner responds to them, as some types of gestures of love work better for some than for others.
Write your partner a note describing things you appreciate about them, then stick it in a place where they will find it soon. Just think of two or three things you really value about your partner and write a note listing those things, in your own handwriting. End it with a simple statement of love, sign it, and then put that note in their backpack or in their car or some other place where they’ll find it.
Hold your partner’s hand when you’re sitting near each other or walking somewhere together. Just reach over and interlace your finger with that person that you love and hold on for a little while. Not only is the handholding itself a nice thing to do, it also requires some general physical closeness.
Make your partner’s favorite dinner and then clean up everything, leaving the kitchen and dining area nicer than when you started. For me, that usually means making some kind of curry with rice or naan bread. I’ll often write something bland and generic on the meal plan and then prepare it so that the house smells like curry and is just about finished when she walks in the door from a day of teaching.
Look for the little things your partner likes, buy them (or even stock up on them) when they’re cheap, and give them out over time. What little things does your partner buy as little treats for themselves? What’s their favorite kind of candy or gum? Maybe your partner likes to buy a pack of Magic cards every once in a while, or maybe they’re into craft beer and you can buy a bomber of something unusual that they’ll like. Just get that little item spontaneously. Even better, if you see an opportunity, stock up on that item and hide the extras somewhere, and then slip one into your partner’s bag for the day every once in a while.
Block out a chunk of time that the two of you can spend together regularly, even if that means shouldering some extra tasks for a while, and alternate those chunks between things you each enjoy. The key is to wall off that time and make sure that other tasks aren’t interfering or distracting from it, which might mean taking a task or two you don’t otherwise want to do. My wife and I try to wall off a couple evenings a week for either binge-watching a series on Netflix together (her thing) or playing a board game together (my thing). Sometimes, we’ll mix that up – she’ll pick the board game, or I’ll pick the series to binge watch.
Look your partner straight in the eyes and say, “I love you.” It’s so simple, but it’s sometimes harder to do than you expect. Yet, when it’s done from the heart, it can really connect the two of you.
Lay close to your partner when falling asleep. Just cuddle up close for a little while as you’re drifting off. Yeah, sometimes it can get kind of warm, especially in the summer, but you don’t have to stay tightly cuddled for the whole night, just for a little while with your arm around your partner.
Handle your partner’s least favorite chore without asking. What does your partner do regularly around the house that they hate doing? Just do it for them. Take out that trash. Wash those dishes. Clean out the grease trap. Change that light bulb. Whatever the task is that your partner hates, do it for them without being asked.
Pick a bundle of wildflowers and give them to your partner. It’s generally legal to pick true wildflowers in open public areas such as roadsides, as indicated here. Just go pick some wildflowers with long stems and bring them home and put them in a vase for your partner. Just make sure the flowers are truly wild and that you’re not trespassing or violating traffic laws to do so.
Quietly trade some service for an evening of babysitting and plan an evening together without your partner expecting it. Find someone who would be willing to watch your kids for an evening (or overnight), and then work out some kind of swapping arrangement for a night of babysitting with them. Hold that night of free babysitting in your pocket and then plan a “date night” of some kind, all without your partner knowing about it at all.
Write a thoughtful appreciation of your partner and share it publicly, perhaps on social media. Think about the things you wish the whole world knew about your partner, put those things down in words, and share it with the world. Social media is a convenient place to do it, but be creative – maybe there’s another opportunity in your life for a public showing of this kind of appreciation. When I was in grade school, the spouse of one of my teachers did such an appreciation on an empty bulletin board near the teacher’s classroom.
Put your arms around your partner at unexpected moments, especially at home. Just walk up behind your partner, put your arms around your partner, and rest your head on their shoulder or back. It’s such a simple gesture, but it’s a deeply romantic one that just signifies pure love, especially for people who long for the human touch. My wife and I do this regularly and it always feels good for both of us.
Warm up your partner’s car on a cold winter morning. If it’s cold outside, just walk outside fifteen minutes or so before your partner is about to leave and start their car for them, turning on the heat so that it’s nice and toasty when they get inside. If there’s been snow or ice, clear it off for them. It’s a little gesture, but it’s one that shows a great deal of love because it saves them from getting cold and dealing with frosty windows.
Write your wedding vows carefully in marker or a thick pen on card stock, put them in an inexpensive frame, and hang it in your bedroom. Put it over your bed if there’s a spot on the wall. Those words will remind you every day of the commitment you made and they’ll remind your partner every day of the commitment you made to them.
Plan a “lunch date,” then pack a picnic and meet in a park. It can be really hard for two working adults, particularly parents, to find time for a “date,” so instead of searching through your evenings for a date night, look in the middle of your day. Pick a day to have lunch together, then pack a picnic lunch and share it together in a park before going back to work.
Think of something that you really appreciate about your partner, and then just say, “You know, you’re really amazing at…” and tell your partner about that thing you find amazing about them. It can be something small, like how amazing the meal they made was, or it can be something big, like how good they are at parenting. Just find something that your partner does well that you really appreciate, then voice that appreciation in sincere words.
Kiss your partner when your partner arrives home from work or from any extended period when they’re out of the house. Pull your partner close and just give them a quick kiss when you haven’t seen them for several hours or for longer. It’s a simple gesture that takes just a second, but it keeps those romantic fires burning in a marriage.
Take care of a responsibility for your partner and encourage your partner to use that suddenly-free time to enjoy one of their hobbies. If your partner has a responsibility or a task ahead of them, simply take care of it for them and encourage them to spend some time just relaxing or doing something fun that they value. Take care of the list of errands and let your partner spend s few hours curled up reading or doing something else they enjoy.
Make your partner a batch of their favorite cookies (or other snack) and handle all of the prep and cleanup yourself. Does your partner flip for your chocolate chip cookies? Does your partner go on and on about the breakfast burritos that you make? Maybe your partner absolutely loves from-scratch marshmallows. Whatever it is, make a big batch of that thing yourself and handle all of the prep work on your own.
Establish a regular frequent routine where it’s just the two of you together, even if it’s something as simple as a shared beverage on the back porch after the kids are in bed. Make this something that occurs every day or at least multiple times a week, just a simple moment that’s shared between the two of you. For us, when the weather is nice, it’s usually some time sitting on the porch together after the kids are in bed, or on the couch together if the weather is colder, with no real distractions around us, talking about whatever comes to mind.
Kiss your partner’s ear and whisper in it that you find your partner unbelievably attractive right now. This is another one of those five second bursts of romance and passion that you can slip into almost any moment quite easily. Just lean in to your partner, whisper in their ear a bit, and give them a kiss on their earlobe. Since the words are quiet and private, use your imagination regarding what you say, but make it exciting and flattering.
Pack a lunch that they can take to work tomorrow (and maybe leave a little positive note or other trinket in there). Just assemble a lunch for your partner to take to work the next day so that they can just grab it and go when they leave in the morning. In that lunch, slip in something surprising, like perhaps one of their favorite small treats or a positive and loving note for your partner to discover.
If you have children, plan days or blocks of quality family time where you’re all engaged in the same activity that inherently allows for conversation and direct interaction. This can be surprisingly romantic if you have children. Just find a project that everyone in the family can do together and work on it in a focused way, with lots of socializing and communication and conversation built in. A board game can be good, as can yard work or gardening. Fill it with some glances at your partner with a little smile on your face.
Take a deck of inexpensive playing cards and write a romantic appreciation on the face of each one, then play a two player card game with it. If you can’t think of romantic appreciations, riff on this idea a little and find things to write on each card that draw you together in some other fashion. Perhaps the deck of cards could contain nothing but the dates of important moments in your shared lives.
Apologize, from the heart, for something you did wrong in your relationship that still bothers you, and put the blame squarely on yourself and ask for forgiveness. We’ve all made mistakes, and we’ve all made them without adequately apologizing for them. Some of those mistakes wind up held in our heart, eating away at us over time, and they can sometimes eat away at the people we love, too. The best way to fix that and to truly show love is to genuinely apologize and put the fault on yourself. No excuses, no blame on anyone but you. It’s hard, but it’s incredibly worthwhile to actually do this.
Listen to their problems and concerns without interruption, and just give words of empathy and encouragement at the end, not solutions (unless you’re asked). If your partner has something on their mind, sit and listen to their problems. This doesn’t mean being distracted by your phone or not listening while thinking of the next thing to say. Listen. Ask questions only for clarification. Instead of offering solutions, offer words of empathy and encouragement.
If you’re in a long distance relationship, make an “overnight kit” for your partner in your bathroom so that they have the toiletries and other items that they need when visiting. Find out what your partner’s preferred toiletries are and stock up on them. Have them easily available, too, and don’t just hide them away. Having those things in hand makes them feel more comfortable where you live and, by extension, more loved.
Give your partner a lengthy, slow, and patient massage. Take your time with it and focus on the pleasure that your partner is getting out of the massage above all else. Pay attention to their tense and sore places and massage them gently to take away the discomfort and pain. Let them get completely relaxed. If they drift off to sleep, that’s completely fine, because it’s a sleep of comfort and peace and love.
When your partner is doing some task that’s helpful for both of you (such as mowing the lawn), bring your partner a refreshment in the middle of that task, like a cold drink. A simple gesture like this shows strong appreciation for the fact that they’re taking on a hard task, love and concern for the effort they’re putting in. Something as simple as a cold washcloth or a cold drink on a hot day in the middle of a hot task can have a huge impact and mean so much.
Set aside some time each day to “check in” with your partner, ideally face to face, but by phone if necessary. This is just a moment to check in and make sure the other person is doing all right and ensuring that things are going okay in their life and that you’re in touch with what’s happening in their life. That kind of constant awareness of your partner – and encouraging that kind of awareness in your partner – can bring people incredibly close. My wife and I do this face to face each evening, usually as we’re preparing dinner or right after the kids are in bed. We do it when either of us are traveling without the other as well.
These are all simple ways to show your partner that you love them without resorting to extravagance. Depending on how your partner feels love – touch, word, action, time, gifts – the strategies on this list will help them feel that love from you.
It is that constant sense of love in a romantic relationship that can keep the fires going for years and years. It’s all about finding ways to show that love and figuring out how your partner feels that love from you. When you figure it out, the romance sticks around forever, and it doesn’t have to involve going broke for expensive gifts or experiences.