Our couples’ counselors in MD are well aware: it’s February, and that means we’re fast approaching Valentine’s Day — Cupid’s big day out and, believe it or not, a source of stress for many in couple relationships. I think that many couples put a great deal of pressure on themselves and on their partners to make this day special, and can sometimes end up feeling hurt and disappointed when the reality of the day falls short of expectations.
One way to have a successful Valentine’s Day is to think about what it really means to your relationship. At it’s core, it’s an archaic celebration for a long-dead Saint who may or may not have had something to do with supporting troubled or persecuted relationships. But in modern times, it’s become the classic “greeting card holiday” — an opportunity for candy companies, florists, and greeting card companies to rake in some reliably big profits because, well, that’s just what we do on Valentine’s Day! This year, I encourage you to take a moment– alone or during couples therapy— to really think about whether or not Valentine’s Day is meaningful to you, and why. Upon careful thought, you may find that it’s really not all that big a deal in the grand scheme of things. Personally, in my own relationship with my husband, we have come to regard Valentine’s Day with what I consider a healthy amount of distance. We don’t buy into the pressure to buy each other expensive gifts, go out to a fancy dinner, etc. We do, however, see it as an opportunity to take a little extra bit of time to remind each other that we love each other and are committed to our relationship and our family. We exchange cards and maybe a small gift, but we don’t make a huge deal out of it.
This works for us because we have discussed and agreed on a shared set of expectations for how to acknowledge the day. It works because we take other opportunities throughout the year — on dates that are more meaningful to us personally — to make a grand celebration of our relationship. And it works because we don’t buy into the media hype about what a big deal Valentine’s Day is, or the belief that if we don’t exchange extravagant gifts it means we don’t really love each other or value our relationship.
Whatever you and your partner decide is the best way to handle Valentine’s Day, I encourage you to follow a few simple steps to avoid conflict and disappointment:
- Have an honest discussion about your expectations, well in advance of February 14th. Again, you may wish to do this with or without a couples therapist in MD. If one person expects a fancy dinner out followed by drinks and dancing at a killer venue overlooking the water, while the other is thinking more along the lines of just ordering take-out from your favorite restaurant and cuddling in sweatpants, you’re probably setting yourselves up for disappointment.
- If you’re going to exchange gifts, set and stick to a budget. Imagine coming home on Valentine’s Day with an expensive gift from your partner that you’ve put a great deal of thought and financial resources into. You special-ordered it back in December, have had it hiding in the back of your closet for weeks, and took great care to wrap it in luxurious paper and ribbon. Your excitement about giving the gift has been building all day, and finally the moment arrives to watch your beloved open it. S/he is thrilled, but you sense an awkward feeling. Then you open your gift… and it’s your favorite candy bar that s/he picked up on the way home from work. Sweet, yes, but not on par with your own efforts. Though it feels selfish and uncomfortable to be hurt by the difference in your two gestures, the disappointment you’d feel in this situation is genuine. Avoid this by just talking it out — setting a budget doesn’t make your gift any less romantic or meaningful! Surprises are nice when they work out, but can be troublesome when you independently decide to surprise each other in very different ways.
- Regardless of how you choose to celebrate, take the opportunity to focus on your relationship and your partner for a few extra minutes. If nothing else, Valentine’s Day is one day per year when most everyone’s thoughts turn to their relationships. This provides a nice opportunity to just pause in the craziness of everyday life to remember that you are in a partnership, and think about why you value it. If you and your partner do nothing else to celebrate, just tell each other “I love you because __________, and I’m glad you’re my partner.”
How will you approach Valentine’s Day this year? Sound off in the comments!
Lindsey Hoskins & Associates provides couples, family, and individual therapy in downtown Bethesda, MD. Contact us today at hello@lindseyhoskins com or (301) 200-5290 to discuss which of our talented, dedicated therapists is the right fit for you.