5 ways to improve your relationships

It’s Valentine’s Day next week. The marketing machine’s hyped up, telling you to spend big in order to impress the one you love. What if I told you it wasn’t necessary? There are other options? Not that I’m anti red roses and chocolates, but I thought we could consider five ways to improve your relationships (I guess that’s the idea behind the day?) without buying into their retailing game.

There’s reason I suggest this, other than not wanting to be manipulated by a marketing machine. It’s this: not everyone appreciates being given cute stuffed bears or mushy cards. It’s not that they necessarily mind, it just won’t push their buttons in the way you might hope. It won’t get you the brownie points you’re wanting. And it may not improve your relationships. So, what can you do instead?

1. Use your words

Not all of us are competent at communicating our thoughts and feelings. When my daughter was young, I was always encouraging her to use her words. She expected us to know what she wanted by some kind of mind reading or osmosis, but she needed to learn to own what she thought and speak it out. There’s a terrible joke about the wife who complained to her long term husband that he never told her he loved her. In reply, he said, “I told you I loved you on our wedding day. If I change my mind I’ll let you know!”

If you want to improve your relationships – or even maintain them! – you need to do better than that. People need to know what you’re thinking, and that you appreciate them.

Some people feel especially loved when you use your spoken or written words to tell them you care. So, perhaps instead of a card with the sickly verse and your two names only, sit down and think about what you value about your other. What are they good at? What do they do that you appreciate? If you were to want something good for their benefit (as opposed to yours), what would it be?

Write some of those words on the card – and/or make a point to say them out loud. Try to do this by creating a specific moment for them to be heard in, as opposed to muttering them as you pass by with a screaming kid or run out the door to work. That’s my first suggestion.

2. Spend some time

A second way to communicate you appreciate someone is to spend time with them. Remember how at the beginning of your relationship you spent every moment you could together? The more time passes, the less likely it is we do that. Instead, “together” ends up being slumping nearby on the couch (often whilst playing on our phones!) and sleeping in the same bed .

Why not offer to hang out with your special person a couple of times this week? Maybe once you could go out for a meal or a walk, and another you accompany them whilst they do something they enjoy. This is about them, not you, so make the point to say that’s your reason for going, and watch you don’t change the focus to something else. If they ask why you’re doing it, simply say, “I enjoy hanging out with you.”

3. Communicate care through touch

Plenty of people in the world experience your love through personal touch. Women especially, apparently have receptors just under their skin which trigger feel good fuzzies, so use of this method in communicating your care is at least worth a try. Hold hands when you go out, cuddle up on the couch, or give hugs which are just a little bit longer (try waiting until the other person pulls away).

A massage can also be good to offer and a way to improve your relationships – so long as they like your massage style and you can sustain it longer than ten seconds! Sex can fit in here too if it’s appropriate, but be warned, it doesn’t mean you can leave other forms of touch alone!

4. Do something nice for them

I live in a family of ‘love by doing’ people. What I mean is, they’re especially good at communicating care by doing something to help me. This can range from bringing in the washing to fixing our wire door. Taking a task off my plate and getting it done lightens my stress levels and’s a subtle way of communicating care. I know they’re telling me they’re on my side when they do these things.

We’re not the only ones to measure love this way. Lots of people value seeing love in action more than in words or touch.

So, this week, think. Can you do something nice for that person in your life? What’s really weighing them down that you can take on and tick off? It could be truly appreciated.

Plenty of people operate like this – and perhaps especially guys. So, next time you’re tempted to get cross because your man hasn’t been ‘romantic’ enough for you, stop and ask yourself whether he’s expressed his love by doing instead. Fixed the car? Computer? Dropped the kids to school? Brought you take away? All of these and more may be ways he’s trying to tell you something positive, and enhance your relationship!

5. Gift them something they value

The final way you might want to express care and do something good for your relationship takes us back to the traditional. Give them a present. But not just any old thing! Put some time into your choice, and then do your best to present it well. Some people really love this form of communicating love. You can pick them by the way they ooh and aah and take forever to open it up. They probably make a big deal of giving you something, as well.

For people who’s love language is the giving and receiving of gifts, it’s probably worth making something of Valentine’s Day. Do the beautiful flowers, and do it in style. They’ll love it – and love you too!

Final thoughts

It’s easy to save these special ways of affirming someone and saying we care until a birthday or special event. If you wan’t to improve your relationships in a serious way, do better than that. Use these ideas all year round. Test out which ones work best on your significant other over time, and keep going with the winners. Our relationships need regular attention and input to thrive.

It’s also true that these ways of showing love ought not be limited to one key relationship, either. Apply them to all the people in your significance circles. Men. Your kids or parents. Why not some friends? After all, doesn’t everyone want to feel special?