February is a month to reflect on, appreciate, and increase our awareness of many different things here in the U.S. Chief among them being Black History Month. But as a couples therapist, I write to you today to bring awareness of the expectations that many couples put on themselves or their partner as Valentine’s Day approaches.
Novelist Elizabeth Bowen famously wrote, “When you love someone, all your saved-up wishes start coming out.” When we’re in emotionally safe relationships we feel safe enough to express our needs and wants. But this doesn’t necessarily mean we’ve communicated our preferences and expectations to our partner in a way where they really “get it”. And perhaps this is why many couples get into disagreements around Valentine’s Day.
For some couples Valentine’s Day is a special day to express how important you are to one another through words, actions, gifts, touch, surprises, you name it. For other couples it may be a reminder that your relationship used to have all those things, but now you only get them once, maybe twice a year. Ask yourself, “Am I communicating how much I value my partner on a regular basis?” If Valentine’s Day is the one day a year where you do something special together, there may be a deeper issue that needs to be addressed.
U.S. culture, and the mainstream media in particular influence our notion of how Valentine’s Day is supposed to go down, what it’s supposed to mean to us, and what we’re entitled to get out of this romantic holiday. One important piece of this puzzle that pop-culture all too often seems to leave out is how to have a conversation with your partner about these expectations. How should you talk to your partner about needs and desires?
In a traditional heterosexual relationship, the guy is supposed to plan for, pay for, and get a gift on Valentine’s Day right? Men’s Health and Women’s Health Magazines conducted a poll and the results may interest you:
- The majority of men feel they are responsible for planning Valentine’s Day, while the majority of women feel the couple should plan it together
- Strong gender agreement was found that both men and women expect the man to pay for Valentine’s Day
- The majority of women don’t expect to have sex simply because it’s Valentine’s Day, while the results for men were 50/50
- More than 80% of both men and women polled said that it’s not important at all to get a gift on Valentine’s Day
So what does this all mean? That the couple should plan Valentine’s Day together, but the man should pay for it, forget gift giving, and wait a minute, are we supposed to have sex today or….? The truth is that paramount to any of our socially engrained ideas of what we’re expected to do when we’re in a relationship, is that we communicate with our partner before hand about what we’re both expecting on February 14th.
It’s not important that the majority of men feel it’s a Hallmark holiday, or that the majority of women feel it’s another excuse to show they care. How does your man feel about his role on Valentine’s Day? What does your woman want on the 14th? What matters is that the couple talks about it before hand and each partner clarifies their preferences. Let’s also not forget that there are 364 other days that are perfectly fine to get/give flowers, compliments, chocolates, and romantic letters.
And remember, communicating preferences about how you’d like the day to go, doesn’t mean you can’t plan a surprise, if you’re partner’s into that sort of thing!
See the full results of the Men’s/Women’s Health Magazine PollPhoto Credit: Alan Rampton (source link)
Robin S. Smith, MS, LCMFT is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in clinical practice in Bethesda MD, and specializes in relationship issues for couples, families, and individuals, for improved quality of life. His clinical specialties include: transition to parenthood for new and expecting parents, infidelity, sex and intimacy issues, premarital counseling, and trauma. Robin has given talks to various groups including hospital administrators, graduate students, therapists, and child birth educators. He is the primary contributor to The Couple and Family Clinic Blog.