Research indicates that there are some distinct gender differences in how men & women communicate about love. Men are usually more activity-oriented, while women are more communication-oriented.* Let's crack this open...
A student of mine illustrated this perfectly. For a special occasion, her boyfriend shelled out some hard-earned cash to buy her a pricey, trendy handbag. However, the card was simply signed, "Love, _____." So, of course, what was her reaction to this generous gift? She thanked him, and definitely appreciated the great purse, but wished, wished, wished he would've written some mushy sentiments on the card. Women are generally word-oriented.
Recently, my mother said this about my 6-year-old son, "My grandson doesn't like to visit with me on the phone anymore. He only wants me around when I play games with him." I suppose it begins early. ;) Men are generally activity-oriented. I remember a similar story from the 1st year of our marriage. For Valentine's Day, I gave my spouse the most special gift I thought possible... a book of copies from my journal, bearing the most secret moments of my soul, which tracked my feelings from our courtship to marriage. Why on earth, after all of my days swimming through communication research, was I surprised that he never finished reading those 30 pages of my feelings? Today, I look back and want to laugh at what I expected.
So when planning that special Valentine's Day surprise, or during the day-to-day course of your relationship, keep these things in mind. When shopping for gifts for your husband or son, consider joining in their favorite activity. Go out biking, get tickets to a game, take a trip... do stuff. (And when gift-giving for your spouse, dare I say, "Do stuff," if you know what I mean. Wink, wink.) For the wife, sister, daughter, mom - still get her the great handbag, BUT please, write plenty of words on the card too.
*Remember that research is about generalizations. It doesn't mean all men or women. Plus, keep in mind the difference between sex & gender.