5 Surprising Ways to Show Your Love

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Want to let someone know they're loved? Try using actions, rather than words. "Love is an action verb," says Jamie Comstock, a professor of communication at Butler University in Indianapolis. "To really feel the love, the other person has to sense the message in nonverbal ways."

Here are five surprising things to know about gestures that say, "I love you" -- words optional.

1. Small weekly gifts "count" more than rare, splashy ones.

The underlying love message: "I'm committed to you."

Saving up for those pricey Valentine's roses and jewelry in a velvet box? Think twice, if it means you can't afford smaller tokens of affection the rest of the year. That's not to say flowers and jewels aren't welcome or good gifts. But grand gestures shouldn't usurp more frequent demonstrations of your love.

Frequent contact is one of the best signs of commitment, according to Comstock. "Your mom will appreciate a large box of candy on Valentine's Day, but if she doesn't hear from you again until Mother's Day, she won't sense the love in the gesture," Comstock says.

Those small gestures don't have to be store-bought tokens; they can take the form of a daily catch-up with a traveling lover, the everyday loving gestures you show a spouse -- making the bed first, bringing him coffee, scraping ice from her car in the morning -- or a weekly call to your aging parents.

2. Frequent touching speaks louder than words.

The underlying love message: "We're connected."

Whether you're hugging your dad or caressing a lover, touch telegraphs affection faster than words do. Thank your brain and your skin's abundant nerve endings for why touch feels so nice. The emotional brain "gets" touch communication more immediately than it understands words, which have to be processed first through the speech centers, says David Givens, director of the Center for Nonverbal Studies in Spokane, Washington, and author of Love Signals.

"If seeing is believing, touching is knowing," he says.

Touch comes naturally to couples falling in love but notoriously fades over time. Older adults tend to respond especially strongly to touch as a signal of love because they're often "touch deprived," says Comstock.

Counter that trend with a daily intentional hug, a shoulder squeeze, letting your knees touch as you sit opposite each other. See 9 Wordless Ways Someone Says, "I Love You".

3. Doing slightly complicated things for your loved one brings you closer.

The underlying love message: "I'm willing to put forth special effort for you."

"The more effort you put into a gesture of love, the more the recipient feels the love," Comstock says. A perception that you've gone the extra mile decreases the psychological distance between the two of you. So, for example, leaving a treasure hunt of post-it notes bearing hearts registers higher on the "you love me!" scale than a rote "I love you" verbally tacked onto the end of every phone conversation.

More examples: A carefully planned getaway weekend or scanning a lifetime of old prints into digital images. Just make sure the gesture involves planning and forethought on your part -- and that the recipient knows it wasn't contracted out to a third party (executive assistant, travel agent) to arrange.

How corny these efforts are depends on your taste and their execution. But what they have in common: a lover's effort.

4. Activities that "mirror" reinforce a common courtship behavior.

The underlying love message: "We're so in synch."

Go dancing. Take a walk together. The operative word is together. As you take a walk with a companion, for example, you tend to fall into step with each other, matching your strides, going in the same direction, seeing the same things en route. Dancing requires an even more closely matched echoing of your behaviors.

We unconsciously imitate each other when we feel close, which reinforces further closeness. Couples do this unconsciously all the time: Watch a pair who are flirting. Social scientists call this "synchrony" -- simultaneous action "“ when members of a social pair match their behaviors. "It's a strong way of being alike," Givens says.

Those who want to express love that's sure to be felt can borrow a page from the same playbook and mirror their behaviors in intentional ways.

"The more alike you are, the more you like each other," Givens says.

5. Nothing thrills like a little inside knowledge.

The underlying love message: "I know you and feel close to you."

A new shirt is nice. One that's monogrammed (for a recipient who likes them) is even better. But best of all, if you're trying to convey, "I love you": a gift that reflects that you're paying attention to the relationship.

That can mean something you made yourself just for the person, or something that reflects an inside joke or insider knowledge about the person's passions and preferences. How much you spend isn't the point here; it's how much you spend emotionally. So winning choices might include a handmade card, a CD of handpicked tunes, a framed photo of the two of you, an item that you observed the recipient coveting or needing months ago, or a scrapbook looking back on a long marriage or celebrating an older parent's life.

"The most valued gifts to a receiver are those the person knows are just for him or her," Comstock says. "If I'm debating whether to buy my dad a shirt or make him a batch of chocolate chip cookies to show my love for him, the cookies send a stronger message because I know they're his favorite thing -- and he knows I know this and did it for him. He could buy his own shirt.

"The strongest relationship messages we send cost almost nothing," Comstock says.

Paula Spencer Scott

Paula Spencer Scott is the author of Surviving Alzheimer's: Practical Tips and Soul-Saving Wisdom for Caregivers and much of the Alzheimer's and caregiving content on Caring. See full bio

over 1 year, said...

This article is great! I believe in these 5 gestures and do them. I really believe they benefit me (in-home caregiver to husband with Alzheimer's) even more then they benefit my husband! His reaction to the gestures is immediate and temporary but mine is lasting and spirit renewing.

over 2 years, said...

i like it and it helped me to know how to show love to my beloved

almost 3 years, said...

Wonderful delievery

almost 4 years, said...

Nice she may be fall in my love and thank you really

over 4 years, said...

It is a reminder in our busy lives to pay more att'n to how we act/react to others.

over 4 years, said...

My mother who is 78 years now,had suffered a stroke (CVA) three years back and since then she has lost the use of her right limbs and also her ability to talk. Though we try our best to make her comfortable she always seems agitated and keeping shouting loudly for reasons we are unable to understand. We have seen our mother active throughout our lives and it pains us no end to see her in this condition. I keep praying to GOD everyday for a miracle to occur so that she would suddenly start talking to us. I would like to share with and learn from others who are also facing a similar situation at home with any of their loved ones.

over 5 years, said...

The examples were most helpful to spark my own ideas.

over 5 years, said...

Getting ideas and affirmation of what I knew but wasn't sure of anymore. The advertising we are bombarded with makes one feel that it has to be a monument of a gift.

over 5 years, said...

my wife has made my meals,washed my clothes, cleaned the house, raised and nurtured our 4 girls and much more as I went to work very day. Now my high school sweetheart and I have been married 60 yrs. I'm 81 and retired so 10 yrs. ago I started taking on some small chores to show my appriciation for all her yrs. of TLC. I make the bed everyday, clean the bathroom sink,do some cooking and meal preperation, carry the laundry basket from the 2nd fl. to the basement and help assist her in many ways to help her. We are very much in love and need each other more than ever as we age. I'll say something and she says she was just thinking the same thing. We have developed some sort of ESP that's uncanny. I take her out to eat at least once a week, we go camping, Go to musical concerts, stage plays, and enjoy spending time watching streamed movies at home. I'm a wierdo and have no friends,not even my own children, and she is loved by everyone and loves everyone, even me. I would have no life without her and she's the neatest, humorous nicest person I know. We are both in good health and never get sick or have been in hospitals or take any meds. I love my wife and my life and I would do any thing for her. We are both Christians, consevative Republicans, and diehard Packer fans. We are still having fun with out sex. Well I do miss it some.

over 5 years, said...

Learning & sharring....

over 5 years, said...

Great ideas. Thanks for sharing. I have many persons in my life that need constant help. My parents and husband are their 80s. My MIL will be 103 next month ! Hey, we all need encouragement and help !

over 5 years, said...

Thanks for the tips. Really enjoyed this one!

almost 6 years, said...

I have been married for 25yrs and it nice to read about new ideas to help show the one you love, that even with time you can still surprise them..

almost 6 years, said...

I really can't think of anything that would make it better. It was very good as it was.

almost 6 years, said...

I was lucky enough to come from a very affectionate home. My mother was big on hugs and kisses, even today. But my father, who is no longer with us, was a touchy guy, not really hugs but pats on the backs, or he'd hit my head or punch my shoulder. Silly things but I always knew they came from a place of love and affection. In return I would always go out of my way to kiss his wrinkled forehead. These are the little things I miss about my father.

almost 6 years, said...

This is the type thing I've always done for my mama & daddy, who are in their 80's now. Also I have tried to teach this to my children. I'm 60 years old, but have been disabled for 15 years. I live alone, very alone. The kids help pay my utilities so that I can live in a nice house in a nice,quiet neighborhood. But no one ever comes or calls other than my Mama. I have 9 grandchildren, after August there will be 10. Sometimes my doctors are the only people I see in a month's time. I am definitly 'touch deprived". What I wouldn't give for any of my kids or grandchildren or daughter-in- laws or son-in-laws to just come by and sit and take my hand. I've always been big on hugs, but where are they now? I wish I could send this article to my kids but I don't remember how. And I have no ink to print it out. DJo53

almost 6 years, said...

My husband needs a lot of physical help due to his condition. I have always been a touchy-feely person. Since having had to start helping my husband physically it seems to have added a love of a different dimension, something like the protective feeling one gets from looking after a sick child. Instead of just doing the necessary physical movements it seems natural to add a hug, a caress, a peck on the cheek, a kiss on the hand, a stroke on the hair... The result? So often I get "I love you" as a response, even just "mimed" because his voice sometimes refuses to co-operate.

about 6 years, said...

What a cool article.. These are non-threatening ways to show folks you care. My Dad was not a really touchy-feely affectionate guy. It was hard for him to show his feelings. He used to be a drill sergeant in the military. When he spoke he'd speak so loud and forcefully that people would get offended. "You don't have to get loud with me buddy.." I remember a clerk at a grocery store saying to him. But, He wasn't yelling he was asking her about a coupon. But, My sister and I felt safe with him. We understood him. Because of his rough, abrasive exterior folks missed out on his naturally sweet marshmallow like center. It was there & he passed away not knowing how to show it. I really like this article & hope it helps a lot of people.

about 6 years, said...

Thanks, great insight am on top of present hut,am doing as ilustrated.

about 6 years, said...

We so often forget the little things are what matters! With a loved one, a friend, even an aquaintance. We feel so good when these things are done for us,why then do we forget to do for others. Thank you so much for reminding me to keep this in mind, and often! I can feel the love already as I think of things to do for my dear lover.

about 6 years, said...

hi friends im arnie been in many of ways through emotional feeling,s yet i feel that i got alot of happiness other time,s it,s sad but yet those pass times still remain on my mind . im single but no one tells me that let,s share some great moment together , that really make me feel left out of life ,and not love its not the money part that bother,s me it,s being alone with out love and care if any one can pull me out of this feeling ,i would be more happier to date them or spend time to learn how easy life can be thankyou ,god bless all of you good bye hope to read a e,mail soon that will help me

about 6 years, said...

Hi Kate, Thank you for sharing your insights with our community! It's always great to hear the vantage point of care providers about caregiving. The article entitled "Guidelines for a More Successful Visit: Visiting Your Elderly Loved One" may also be of interest to you and your network: http://www.caring.com/articles/visiting-elderly-loved-ones (Cut and paste the URL into your browser). Kind regards, Sho of the Caring.com Community Team