Valentine’s Day can be a make-or-break situation for couples. We’ve asked our expert couples and relationship therapists to provide some insights for partners as they navigate these complicated holiday waters.
Alexandra Solomon, PhD, a licensed clinical psychologist and Assistant Clinical Professor at The Family Institute, provides today’s tips.
Valentine’s Day means what you make it mean.
“There is nothing inherently magical about Valentine’s Day. We do know that rituals are very important for couples and for families. Rituals provide a sort of punctuation in the time line of our lives, giving us the opportunity to pause. When we pause we can reflect and express what is inside of us. If we can use a holiday like Valentine’s Day to step out of the pace of day-to-day life with the intention of cherishing the bond that we have with our intimate partner, then the holiday can be quite enriching and beneficial.
My favorite definition of intimacy comes from feminist researcher, Kaethe Weingarten, and it is, ‘intimacy is the co-construction of meaning that leads to coordinated action.’ In other words, intimacy is whatever YOU and I deem it to be within our relationship. If WE have created meaningful ritual around Valentine’s Day, and if we use that ritual in the service of our love, then Valentine’s Day is a vehicle for intimacy.”
We love love.
“Even though the marriage rate is declining in a rather shocking way, most people continue to report that they would like to marry. At our core, we, as humans, are relational. We are hard-wired for closeness and connection despite the pain and heartbreak that can come when we take the risk to love. So, in that way, Valentine’s Day gives us a chance to celebrate love, which we love!
It is also the case that our economy benefits from our love of love, as there is plenty of money to be made on flowers, candy, jewelry, dinner, and the like. If these offerings are made with the intention of expressing fondness and gratitude, then it certainly seems like a win/win!”
Beware of the pitfalls.
“Remember the definition of intimacy as the co-construction of meaning. Problems can arise when one partner imposes her meaning of intimacy on the other (‘Valentine’s Day HAS to include dinner at the fanciest restaurant in town even if it is outside of our budget’). Or problems can arise if one partner withholds her desire in the hopes the other’s deep affection will allow him to simply glean her heart’s desire without her speaking it (‘If I have to tell you that I really want a dozen roses, then it doesn’t count!’).
I have chosen these pronouns intentionally. When it comes to Valentine’s Day, based on cultural conditioning and the messages we give to both genders from childhood on, I do believe that women are at somewhat greater risk than men of slipping into these ‘non-intimate’ Valentine’s Day pitfalls.
Straight couples may have internalized the cultural message that men ought to lavish women with gifts and plans for Valentine’s Day. If both members of the couple agree that feels authentic and intimate for them, then go for it! He can take the chance to create something wonderful, and she can take the chance to receive his love with enthusiasm.”
Switch to a giving mindset and be authentic.
“Valentine’s Day certainly provides the opportunity for a couple to strengthen their relationship, but couples need to show up with a giving mindset. Each partner needs to ask themselves the question, ‘How can I use this holiday to express my love and affection for my partner?’ This is going to go much better than if one of both partners approach the holiday asking, ‘How can you use this holiday to express your love for me?’
Approaching the holiday with a giving mindset makes space for the reality that individuals have unique love languages. Here are some examples. Ted wrote a poem for his partner. Rhonda washed her partner’s car without him asking. Jane let her partner sleep in while she took care of the kids. Jason offered his partner a massage. Julie bought her partner an expensive new computer gadget. These examples include acts of service, creative expressions, and material gifts. No one expression is better than any another expression, but couples get into real trouble when they act as if there is a hierarchy of expression or when they compare what they ‘got’ to what another ‘got.’ Again, the holiday is going to be the most enriching for a couple when they decide together that each partner has space and freedom to express their love in a way that feels authentic.”
Couples’ Survival Toolbox:
- Ask for what you want. Or be grateful and accepting of what you get. Expecting the other guy to read your mind and being angry and hurt when he gets it wrong is a recipe for a very unhappy Valentine’s Day.
- Love is a verb. Use Valentine’s Day as a way to enact the love you have for your partner.
- Co-create the Valentine’s Day that serves your relationship. Figure out what works for the two of you. What helps the two of you feel close, connected, and grateful? It does not have to look any particular way. Romance is defined in the space between the two of you.
- Go for it! Research shows that couples need 5 positive interactions to outweigh every 1 negative interaction. Use Valentine’s Day to increase the positivity in your relationship.
- Score-keeping is not good for a relationship, so rather than asking, “What have you done for me lately?” ask, “What have I done for you lately?” If both partners have a giving mindset, then everyone’s needs will be met.
To read Alexandra Solomon’s full bio and to learn more about The Family Institute, visit our website.