There’s a wide variation of opinions about Valentine’s Day and its benefits. Some people look forward to the holiday as a means to celebrate their partner. Others avoid the holiday in protest of its commercialism. In fact, observance of Valentine’s Day, birthdays and anniversaries is a common source of stress among couples.
Why is that? Like most conflict in relationships, the origins of our reactions can often be traced back to childhood. How our parents celebrated each other and us as children will impact our view on holidays. If a birthday was forgotten or minimized in comparison to our friends or siblings, it is bound to create sensitivity about our partner remembering and honoring such dates. Or, perhaps our parents made too big a deal of holidays and were insistent on fervent enjoyment and appreciation, leading us to resist any participation in holidays. In either case, we bring forward these feelings and expectations into our current relationships. As a result, these events are ripe for misunderstanding and hurt feelings. Knowing and understanding our partner’s needs around holidays, and what a holiday or birthday celebration means to them helps guide us in taking care of them. Which is really the whole point: when you are in a relationship, you are in each other’s care.
Valentine’s Day: The Hype
For Valentine’s Day specifically, this holiday has become a money-making machine for chocolate, jewelry and gift card companies. CNBC estimates that Americans will spend 19.6 billion dollars to commemorate Valentine’s day this year. Yet the holiday itself began centuries ago to honor and celebrate the freedom to be in committed relationships, against the doctrines of church law and government who at one time outlawed marriage. How did this gesture of empowerment become such a tool for commercialization and why do we participate? February 14 is known to be an arbitrary date to celebrate. Yet, many restaurants are booked out months before this date as though this is your ONLY opportunity to celebrate the feat of being a committed couple, or even just a couple madly in love. And we get tangled up in the pressure to show love in tangible ways, with the day often ending in fights and hurt feelings. Why?
Valentine’s Day: The Opportunity
Here’s the bottom line: when we save up our efforts at showing or celebrating love and commitment for one particular day, we miss a thousand small moments of tending to one another that demonstrate a true understanding of each other’s needs. Is it that we don’t know what those needs truly are? Or that we tend to show love in the ways we ourselves want to be loved, thereby missing the mark for our partner? Or even that stored up hurts and resentments make us unwilling, leaving both partners feeling unloved and disconnected?
It is entirely possible to learn exactly what your partner needs to feel truly loved, and in doing those things, to build an atmosphere in which your own needs are met with understanding and generosity. It is also true that you can learn to fully repair hurts and injuries that have created a wall between you. Looking past the self into the eyes of your partner is required to know and to consider what their experience has been, and to regard it as a true gift to be able to do or say the very thing that’s healing for them.
Possibilities for Care and Connection
This is about reciprocity and mutuality. We direct couples to put the other person first–not in the unhealthy ways we learn about sacrificing our own needs, but graciously and with compassion, because reciprocity and mutuality mean you are secure in the knowledge that yours will also be met.
So when it comes to Valentine’s Day, maybe celebrating and supporting the relationship doesn’t mean spending lots of money, dining out, or even chocolate. Perhaps you start with knowing–or at least imagining–what means most to each other: time together in a long-forgotten activity? Completing a task just because its important to your partner? Freely offering to cover at home while your partner goes out with friends? A handwritten note?
The possibilities are endless. Let it be fun to ponder, secure in the knowledge that your intention comes from a place of caring.
Here’s a great resource for couples to enhance your understanding of what’s most meaningful to each other in showing and feeling love: