One of the most important things in any relationship is to show the other person that they are special to you, worthy of your time, effort, and attention. This can be done with huge, lavish gestures, like buying them a car, but in the long run, the little things that you do on a regular basis make more of a difference.
There are obviously a vast number of small things that you can do for your spouse (I’m going to say spouse, but this applies to any significant other, you don’t have to be married), and some of these will mean more based on your past history. For instance, I proposed to my wife by decorating a cake, writing “Will you marry me?” and having the engagement ring be the “o” in “you”. That meant more because we often look at the cakes when we go to the grocery store or a bakery and comment on which ones we like, and we had done a few together before (like a flag cake for the Fourth of July). It might not mean much to your spouse, however, without that history behind it.
That being said, there are a few “categories” of things that you can do for your spouse that are pretty much universal, and I will list some of these. You can then choose a specific thing that fits in that category that might mean something specifically in the context of you and your spouse.
By the way, I’m saving the best one for last.
Suprise Them With A Small Gift
This is shown in all the movies and TV shows, and is ingrained in our culture. The stereotypical example is to bring flowers. This category is far more effective if you do it for no reason… buying them a gift to say you’re sorry has some effect, but buying them a gift just to say I love you means far more.
The secret here is to do something that shows that you went out of your way for them… the most effective small gifts are ones that show that you know them, like getting them their favorite food, or something in their favorite color, or maybe the new CD from their favorite artist.
Do Something They Normally Do For Them
This involves doing something for them that they normally find unpleasant. Examples include washing dishes, taking out the trash, and changing the baby’s diaper but it could be anything that they do that they dislike. I think my wif’e’s favorite is when I do the dishes.
Oh, and this has to be without them asking, and not in exchange for anything… ie not “I’ll do the dishes today so I can hang out with the guys and watch the game on Sunday.”. It has to be “I’ll do the dishes so you don’t have to do so.”.
Schedule Some Time Specifically For Them
Schedule some time just for them, and do it in advance. That is, don’t just go “There’s nothing happening right now, let’s go do something”, although that, too, can be effective. Plan some time at least a week ahead of time that is theirs, where there are no distractions, to the best of your ability. That means no checking email, no cell phones (you may have to make an exception if you have children… emergencies DO come up), none of the daily clutter of life. That time is their time, and theirs alone.
It can help if you plan what to do ahead, too, but you should always stay open if you can, so that if what you had planned no longer sounds appealing at the start of their time, you can go do something else that DOES sound pleasant. The key here is to let them choose whether to go ahead with previous plans or change them for something else.
Turn Down Something Fun To Spend Time With Them
This does require that they know about it, but also that you don’t rub it in their face. In other words, don’t tell them “I turned down something else to do this with you” like you expect them to make it worth it. It’s far more effective to let them overhear you turn down the other thing, or simply let them know ahead of time, saying something along the lines of “Joe invited me to do such and such, but I told him that I was busy spending time with you”.
This one is particularly dangerous to do too much. First, if they feel like you are trying to spend ALL of your time with them, they may feel smothered (or they may not… it depends on your relationship). Secondly, though, they start expecting it… they start to rate your own time as less important, and start getting resentful when you DO say yes to an invitation to do something that they don’t enjoy. Essentially, they get used to the addtional attention, and it becomes the level of attention they expect, so they feel like you are “stealing” it from them when they don’t get it.
So make sure that doing this is unusual and special.
Create Something For Them
This is the most effective category of them all. It involves investing part of yourself, part of who you are, into them, not just a little bit of time or money. When you create something, it is a partial reflection of who you are… and the amount of you that is reflected is in direct proportion to the amount of effort you have invested.
My wife’s favorite gift that I’ve given her is the jewelry box I made for her. It’s certainly not perfect, and I’ve seen much more beautiful jewelry boxes… but I spent my time and effort creating it for her. She also loves a bracelet that I had custom made for her… it’s not the expense, it’s the time and attention and creativity that I invested into making it. That increases the value of the gift far more than cost alone, and that holds true for all but the most empty of relationships.
Again, all of these things are “categories” of things you can do for them. Each one of them represents time, effort, and attention that you are spending on them. These things show that you find the other person special, and that is important to any relationship.
It helps if you don’t always use the same item from above. For instance, if you always buy them small gifts, they will become accustomed to it, and it will start to lose its meaning. If you take over a chore from them, then eventually it becomes “your” chore, and again, loses its meaning. The last category is more resistant to this than the others, but is NOT immune to it, especially if you’re always creating the same type of thing, like always writing them a poem.
One more thing: The things listed above only work when done because you want to do them. Your spouse WILL be able to tell if you are doing them because you’re “supposed to”, if you are doing it against your will. Your action will lose almost all power at that point.
So, if you want to show your spouse that you appreciate them, start doing something from the list above, but again, only if you actually want to do it (not necessarily the specific act, but really want to show them that you love them), or you’re wasting your time