“I love you” are powerful words. And you count on them to help sustain your relationship. When you and your partner are pulled in different directions — jobs, kids, friends, family, meetings — sometimes a quick “I love you” is all either of you can manage at the end of the day.
But it’s crucial to also show your love, says Beverly Palmer, professor emeritus of psychology at the University of California, Dominguez Hills. Actions reinforce the words, backing up your feelings and making your relationship stronger. “There’s evidence behind it — actions really do speak loader than words,” she says.
Showing love doesn’t require dramatic displays of affection. Nor does it take a lot of time or energy. These simple strategies send your message loud and clear:
1. Respond to a need.
“The best way of expressing love is by anticipating a need of your partner’s and fulfilling it,” says Palmer. This shows that you listen to him and that his well-being and happiness is important to you.
The key is to pay attention. For example, if your mate is stressed about work, make an effort to take on some of his personal or household chores for a while. Or you could take the kids out so he can have some quiet time. Has he been putting off an errand? Run it for him. If the gas tank is empty at the end of the week, go fill it up on Sunday so he’s ready for the week’s commute. Don’t underestimate the power of an occasional thoughtful gesture.
2. Share a laugh.
A study from Appalachian State University found that laughing together over memories strengthens a couple’s bond. “All relationships have times of conflict and difficulty,” says Palmer. Encouraging laughter ensures there’s some positivity to outweigh the negativity. “That’s what creates a sustainable love relationship.”
So send your mate an email when something funny happens or your kid says something outrageous. Or search YouTube for a blast-from-the-past commercial or funny video clip to email or post on his Facebook page. On a special occasion, give your mate a scrapbook full of goofy family photos and mementos with a funny memory associated with them.
3. Be full of surprises.
An unexpected gift or gesture says “You’re special,” says Palmer. “It shows that you think of him and feel connected to him even when you’re not together.”
A meaningful surprise comes from being observant. For example, if you happen to find something that relates to a topic or activity of interest to your mate, bring it home. It might be a book, CD, DVD or game. If money is tight, borrow the item from the library.
Love letters also make great surprises. Instead of writing just one, though, surprise him with five! In each, write about one thing that makes him a terrific dad, then hide them around the house: in his sock drawer, by his toothbrush, tucked inside the book on his nightstand and so on.
4. Make eye contact.
“Looking into each other’s eyes signals you are deeply connected,” says Palmer. Most busy couples, however, manage only quick glances.
You needn’t spend hours or even minutes gazing at each other. Take advantage of opportunities for eye contact that last longer than a few seconds. If you have a dinner date, lock eyes during your conversation. Share a look and a smile at the family dinner table. Face each other as you chat in bed before falling asleep. Even when surrounded by others, seek out your partner’s eyes and make a quick connection.
5. Spend time together.
It sounds obvious, but sharing quality time is better than saying “I love you” a thousand times.
Once in a while, suggest an activity that incorporates one of your partner’s interests, even if it doesn’t coincide with your own. The unselfish act shows that you cherish different sides of him.
For the man who loves sports, for example, suggest that the family attend a game together at the local high school. Or if he enjoys crosswords, get a few puzzle books so everyone can sit around at breakfast swapping answers.
6. Hug, hold hands and cuddle.
Physically connecting with someone is the most natural way to express love. But after several years together, nonsexual touch often falls by the wayside, says Palmer.
Revive it whenever you are together — whether at home, watching your kid’s soccer game or even at a party: Pick up and squeeze his hand, place your hand on his back. Sit close. Give him a hug goodbye and hello. And instead of sitting in separate chairs, cuddle up on the couch together once in a while.
“Women aren’t the only ones who want romance. Both genders want and need it,” says Palmer. And by showing your love with these gestures, chances are your partner will start reciprocating in kind.
Catherine Ryan is a freelance writer and editor who writes on health, nutrition, beauty and green living for such magazines as Self, Ode and Parents. She is a frequent contributor to Life & Beauty Weekly.