We’re more than a week past Valentine’s Day, and I have to admit: As a couples’ therapist, I have really come to dread this holiday. Not for me, personally. I dread it for the couples who come to see me.
Valentine’s Day is a potential land mine. We are all fed the same line as it approaches: “You have to plan something special for your Valentine. Every year, millions of people around the world present their loved ones with candy, flowers, chocolates and other Valentine's Day gifts.”
The gist is that if you love someone, you must be planning something special. Oh my Goddess.
With regard to couples, the world is divided into several camps when it comes to Valentine’s Day.
Camp Number 1 is somewhat cynical. They see Valentine’s Day as a Hallmark holiday that is not terribly significant, and that has become too commercialized. These couples talk might joke that everyone else has drank the Valentine’s Day Cool-aid. Maybe they plan to go out on February 10 to beat the crowds. Or maybe they’ll boycott Valentine’s Day altogether. (If this is you, honestly, you can stop reading.)
Camp Number 2 can be thought of as hopeless romantics. They both really love each other and are comfortable with the language of love gift-giving. These couples may sail through Valentine’s Day. (You guys can probably stop reading now.)
Camp Number 3 is the high-expectation/high-fear and anxiety group. As a couples’ therapist, around the third week of February, there is likely to be blood on my couch from Group 3 couples.
The media whip up a frenzy of expectations over Valentine’s Day because radio, TV and magazines all need content. It takes a really strong sense of your strength as a couple, and your ability to talk through anything, to withstand the myriad potential disappointments.
Consider Zoldbrod’s Rule of Valentine’s Day Normalcy: There will be disappointments. Deal with them. You have 364 other days to treat each other with kindness and love.
Many couples are vulnerable, depending on what their foibles and conflicts are. For my sex therapy clients, for whom sex is an area of conflict, there is a lot of drama about whether there will be good sex (or any sex at all) on Valentine’s Day.
For couples in which one person fears that they love their partner more than that partner loves them, an underwhelming gift stirs feelings of betrayal or potential abandonment.
Data suggest that a not-small group of men fall into this high-anxiety group, fearing that they won’t give their partners a good enough gift. One study surveying Facebook statuses reported that one peak times for breakups is the two weeks after Valentine’s Day.
Staying connected to your partner for the long haul takes a lot of work, compassion for human frailty, the ability to take the long view, and the determination to stay together through difficult times. To me, that’s the definition of mature love.
So in preparation for next Valentine’s Day, I suggest you review your relationship over the prior 50 weeks using this yardstick. And if your relationship measures up, if it’s good in general, or if you are both consistently working to make it better, ease up on your Valentine’s Day expectation.
Just enjoy the fact that you really do love each other.
Posts by Dr. Aline Zoldbrod
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