As Valentine’s Day approaches, it’s hard not to buy into the idea that tightening your connection to your partner means showering each other with expensive presents and making grand love gestures. Sure, we get the appeal of sparkly jewelry and an expensive candlelit dinner. But this misses the point about what really makes relationships strong.
Show-offy gestures don’t end up meaning much; it’s the small moves that solidify your bond. “The constant sense of being seen, the day-to-day sense of being appreciated is what stays in our minds for the long-term,” says Holly Richmond, PhD, a relationship and sex therapist in Los Angeles.
With this in mind, start doing these little moves on the regular every day of the year. They may not seem like much on their own, but they help build the kind of bond that keeps couples close for the long haul.
Leave sweet notes
Whether it’s on a piece of paper stuck to the bathroom mirror or an out-of-the-blue text, love notes go a long way. Write a Post-it note with just a heart, or scribble a quick phrase like “can’t wait to see you later.” It’s a more concrete way to show that your SO is on your mind, and it builds anticipation and desire for when you’ll see each other again, says Richmond.
Touch each other
Some people cringe at the idea of showing affection in public, while other couples are always holding hands or grabbing each other. But giving your partner a few kisses or hugs out in the open can do wonders for your bond. It’s a sign that you want the world to know about your connection, Richmond says, and that of all the people out there, you choose to be with each other.
But if PDA just isn’t your style at all, make sure you work in lots of touches at home, especially the out-of-the-bedroom kind. Rub your partner’s back, run your hand through his hair, wrap yourselves up on the couch while you binge-watch your favorite shows—these touches trigger a chemical reaction that reinforces your connection.
Ask specific questions
“How was your day” is fine as an opener, but digging deeper by asking him about the killer deadline keeping him up at night or the family squabbles he’s dealing with demonstrates that you’re paying attention to the little things he deals with when you two are apart, says Richmond. Of course, you don’t want to press if he’s not up for a Q and A session. But asking him about his life away from you is a sign that you want to share all of his wins and losses—which is what tight couples do.
Give lots of compliments
Sincere compliments tell your partner that you notice what he says and does, and that makes him feel valued. But the type of compliment you give makes a difference. Rather than telling your SO he looks handsome, which might be brushed off as insincere, give him a thumbs-up that’s more personal, suggests Richmond. Even something like “Your hard work at the gym has been paying off—damn your butt looks amazing in those jeans” is more specific (not to mention sexy!).
Affirmations that focus on behavior and skills go a long way too. “Dinner was delicious, I haven’t had steak that good in a long time” or “You’re a great dad, you know that, right?” shows that something he does is truly meaningful to you.
Stock the fridge with favorite foods
Does your partner have a go-to brand of brew or a dessert he can’t resist? Slipping it in the fridge or pantry every so often is a thoughtful gesture indicating that you’re thinking of him when you’re apart. It’s also a sign of nurturing. Partners who are close are all about taking care of each other’s needs and treating them to small surprises that make them happy.
Talk after sex
The action is over, your pulses are going back to normal, and you both feel relaxed and at ease. Before you drift off to sleep (or reach for your phones, as so many of us do), use that afterglow time to tell each other how happy you are and glad you’ve found each other. A little sweet talk after sex “solidifies everything that just happened,” says Richmond. It’s one of the most intimate moments couples have, so make the most of it.