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Give Love Not Gifts To Your Valentine

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Valentine's Day is not about expressing heartfelt love, as originally intended in the Middle Ages in the era of courtly romance and the Geoffrey Chaucer reign. Modern Valentine's Day, a $14.6-billion industry according to the National Retail Foundation, is about cliché-ridden cards and hunky gems that often ends up stashed away, unworn and forgotten.

Who among you hasn't gotten crusty grocery store roses bought by a spouse who remembered it was February 14th on his way home from work? Did that feel like love?

Succumbing in haste to the pressure to be romantic and generous because one holiday dictates we should act this way hardly honors a true and enduring relationship. You want to demonstrate deep and abiding love? Celebrate each other in small and meaningful ways each day, with gestures that have nothing to do with cash.

The Beatles got it right: "Can't buy me love".

Many of us wives have lots of Valentine's Day mementos that sent us into dopamine-drunk states for a day or two. Lasting love is not built on the fleeting euphoria of opening a tiny box every February. Consistently loving behavior is the real prescription for ongoing love in a relationship. We've already got too much stuff in our bureaus we don't need or wear. Yet, we can never receive too much kindness, an unexpected pat on the butt, a long and wet morning kiss, being told "You look great!".

This is what we really need from each other, this is what gives us hope, this is what gives us strength while navigating the inevitable obstacles and pitfalls in long-term partnerships.

Benjamin Disraeli said: "We were born for love. It is the principle of existence and its only end." But this force at the core of existence doesn't just intensify on it's own. We must kindle it with romantic behavior and commit to the hard work it takes for love to last. This requires lots of talking and touching and showing "I love you" by opening your heart. This is the pathway to forever love far more than repeatedly tearing open lavishly wrapped gifts.

After 25 years of marriage, I'm still learning how to love better. And I know I'm not the only spouse who is conscious that love is an ongoing lesson, not a given. I cherish a letter I got from a 67-year-old grandmother that read: "I retired last year after a 40-year career. My husband is now very ill and I am sad that I spent more time at work than I did with this man that I deeply love."

Over-scheduled and obsessively connected to technology, too often we forget to love -- even forget to talk to -- the most important person in our life, the man or woman who gave us the precious foundation of family. Marriage needs to be fussed over or else it will break.

In the work that I do writing about relationships I'm always shocked to learn how many couples have sex once or twice or year, perhaps only on Valentine's Day. Some people blame lack of sexual play on lack of time; most placed the blame on lack of communication. If you're not talking, you're not cuddling. And after years of mutual neglect, too angry to kiss and make up, silent marriages end up dissipating no matter how many trinkets from David Yurman a wife may have gotten.

"I see this constantly," says Robert Liotta, one of the top divorce lawyers in Washington. "Men and women are on parallel tracks, but they never come face to face. I mean, they don't talk at all. They don't even know what the other person has done in the past week. They literally say good morning and good night and that's it. This is a disaster for a marriage."

Ask your spouses about their days. Court them, complement them. Seduce them with soul and grace, not with your wallet. Intimacy belongs on the top of a To Do list, not just on February 14th, but as a conscious and consistent priority.

One of the happiest wives I interviewed for my book, "The Secret Lives of Wives," married 37 years, told me that her husband was never the kind of guy who surprised her with bountiful bouquets or jaw-dropping jewels: "But he was someone who said 'I love you' and meant it every single day," she said.

I know the power of those words delivered from the heart and at the right time. The night after my husband's mother died, making him an orphan in his late 40s, I lay next to him and nestled my head under his chin. Our four sons were laughing in the next room, a sound that always makes me feel centered and whole. I thought of how pure and immense is a mother's love for her children, and how quickly the wheel of time whirls, turning little boys with silky faces into teens with stubble in a finger snap.

I told my husband that I knew no one could ever love a son like a mother does, but that he was deeply loved by his wife and by this tribe we created. He hugged me hard, and said that hearing he was fully loved at the moment he was experiencing the hardest t loss of his life meant everything.

It's easy to tell your spouse "I love you", it's free, and it goes a long way. It's also easy to forget to even exchange a few cordial sentences in the course of the crazy, busy days that are the new normal. Partners who are routinely hugged and kissed and told "I love you" behave better.

You don't need a Valentine's Day to commemorate your relationship if you practice the art of loving all year long.

Iris Krasnow is the author of "The Secret Lives of Wives." Connect with her at iriskrasnow.com.