A Couples' Guide To Having Healthy Expectations Around Valentine's Day
Valentine's Day feels like one of the most high-stakes days of the year for couples. If you're in a new relationship, you may struggle with what the holiday should mean for you and whether you should celebrate it at all. If you're in a longer-term relationship, you may put extra importance on what your partner chooses to do to recognize and honor your relationship. Either way, your expectations can get in the way of finding a way to enjoy each other and celebrate the love you share.
Here are a few steps to guide you through creating healthy expectations around Valentine's Day so there's less stress, pressure, and disappointment and more actual connection and celebration.
Get real about what you want.
Expectations are a problem because they set you up to feel disappointment. They are especially tricky because you're not always aware that you have any. You may only realize they haven't been met when the holiday has gone by and you feel upset. It's important to try to unearth your expectations in advance and talk about them with your partner. Remember, they also have expectations; you need to share them together.
Consider how Valentine's Day has been celebrated in the past. Did your parents or family members do anything special? Did they voice opinions about whether celebrations were satisfactory or not? Have you had other good (or bad) experiences celebrating the holiday in prior relationships? This one? What do all these memories show you about what you want? What do they reveal about what you believe is the "right" way to honor the event?
Think about what kinds of expressions of love actually resonate with you.
How do you like to receive and give affection? To answer this question, you might consider your "love language." If you're not familiar, this is a concept from the book The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. The idea is that each of us has things we associate with love, and it can be hard to recognize loving gestures if they don't fit your profile.
Are you someone who cherishes quality time? A romantic date may be the most meaningful to you. Are gifts one of your love languages? Then flowers and chocolate may be the most important gesture you could receive. How about words of affirmation? If that's your priority, a meaningful card with a handwritten sentiment may have the most impact.
Remember that it's common for people in a couple to have different love languages! It's important for you each to understand what resonates for the other and to do things the other values.
Don't take sex too seriously.
There can also be a lot of pressure on Valentine's Day around your sex life. It's considered such a romantic holiday, and you or your partner may have expectations that you should have sex—and that it should be great.
The thing is, sex doesn't flourish under pressure. I suggest you resist the expectation that this day should be more sexually fulfilling than any other. Instead, adopt an attitude of playfulness. Let go of any ideas you have that anything in particular needs to happen; just enjoy whatever physical intimacy you decide to share. Consider doing something new, like taking turns asking each other for specific types of touch or focusing on sensual massage. It's totally fine to not have any sex or intercourse at all, and you should both enter the day with that mindset. Instead, make the purpose of the evening just to slow down and spend intentional time being intimate together.
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Don't bank on surprises; directly discuss your plans together.
Having different expectations and desires can complicate Valentine's Day and turn it from a celebration of love to an unsatisfying occasion that causes resentment. That's why it's so important to talk about these values with your partner in advance. Compare what you each want and believe. Rather than expecting your partner to make all the arrangements and surprise you, work together to create a plan that celebrates your relationship in a way that feels good to you both. Set yourselves up for success by taking a team approach to planning the day and night.
If you and your partner want vastly different things for Valentine's Day, you will need to find a way to compromise. There may be ways to combine your desires so that it meets at least some of each of your needs. If that isn't possible, consider taking turns. Someone gets it their way this time, and the other person creates the celebration next time. Whichever way you find to compromise, do it in a spirit of unity and support. Commit to it and bring your full energy to it.
The more you can be transparent about what matters to you, care about what matters to your partner, and work together to plan a wonderful celebration, the more satisfied you will feel with the holiday.
Jessa Zimmerman, M.A. is an AASECT-certified sex therapist, licensed couples’ counselor, author of Sex Without Stress, and the host of the Better Sex Podcast. She holds a bachelor's from Cornell University, a master’s in Psychology from Saybrook University, and has completed a certificate in Sex Therapy from the University of Michigan. She specializes in helping couples who have a good relationship but are avoiding sex because it’s become stressful, negative, disappointing, or pressured. She educates, coaches, and supports people as they go through her nine-phase experiential process which gives them real world practice in changing their relationship and sex life.