What trips us up in relationships almost more than anything else is the question of expectations. If we expect to feel wildly in love with our partners at every moment of every day and we find ourselves feeling bored, we immediately wonder what's wrong. When we enjoy separateness and time alone when our partners are away, we feel guilty: aren't we supposed to be joined at the hip?
Expectations tend to set us up for disappointment. And nowhere are expectations more amplified than on charged holidays like Christmas, birthdays, and, of course, Valentine's Day.
We run around overlaying the image we have of our own relationship (or lack thereof) onto the ideas and images about love we see plastered all over the media. When we fall short, which we almost inevitably will, we feel like we've been kicked to the gutter. It's a setup, without a doubt, but given that we all live in this culture, we may as will approach the setup with skills and tools that will help us have the best chances for creating an enjoyable day.
These four tips may help you actually enjoy Valentine's Day ...
1. Let go of the need for perfection.
There's no greater killjoy to a holiday than the expectation that it has to be perfect. Once you're expecting perfection, you squeeze out the spontaneous moments that could contribute to a lovely day. Make room for the possibility that you may have an argument on Valentine's Day, and for the possibility that this argument could also lead to more closeness.
Realize that you may feel disconnected from your partner, and that's OK. Remind yourself that any holiday is just a day. What you do or don't do on Valentine's Day is, in no way, a measure of the worthiness of your relationship or yourself.
2. Communicate to your partner what you would like to see, do or experience.
Part of the challenge of intimate relationships is that we come to each other with vastly different blueprints for how we approach life, including how we approach this Hallmark day. That itself then affects our expectations further. Since we no longer live in small villages where we're matched with someone who was raised very similarly to how we were, we may even experience a cultural clash with our partner when it comes to celebrating.
For example, one of you may have been raised in a family that went all out for the big days while the other one's family barely recognized them. Now, as adults, one of you expects to be showered and romanced and the other couldn't care less. For that reason, communication is key. If you talk things through ahead of time, and determine what each of you expects, it will be easier to find a way to celebrate the day in a way that works for both of you.
3. Write a love letter to yourself.
One of the greatest errors we make in relationships is expecting our parents to "make" us feel loved, full and alive. It's an impossible expectation, as nobody can actually do that for you if you're not already connecting to those places inside yourself. That's why I developed my video course How To Have The Best Relationship Of Your Life to share what I've learned in my experience as a counselor about how our self-perceptions — rather than another's ability to "complete" us — is actually the foundation of a great relationship. So as an antidote to the expectation that you'll be "completed" by your partner, take the pressure off and dazzle your own V-Day by writing yourself a love letter.
4. Take solace in the fact that millions of people struggle on holidays.
I'm not saying that we should derive joy from others' challenges. But often, part of the problem with holidays like Valentine's Day is that we assume that everyone else is having a fantastic, rose-and-wine-filled day. We imagine that every other couple is dewily staring into each other's eyes over dinner then having great sex afterward.
And when we fall prey to these fantasies, we reinforce the belief that something is wrong with us or our relationship or the fact that we are single. It's a downward spiral from there into anxiety, depression, or an argument stemming from the blame-game, which doesn't bode well for a having a good day.
Being a counselor, I know quite well how much angst occurs around these holidays. I'm always on the front line, listening to stories about what really happens behind closed doors for couples — on Valentine's Day and beyond. I know how many couples argue. I know how many people feel brokenhearted or disappointed. I know that it can be a painful holiday for singles (please follow number three above if you're single).
In my ideal world, I would banish holidays like Valentine's Day altogether as the pressure can get just too great. But since that's not likely to happen, I encourage people to learn strategies that will allow them to learn from their personal reactions to these charged days so that their relationship can grow stronger through them.