Valentine’s day is one of those days which can evoke a variety of responses ranging from excitement and celebration to scepticism and distain. This is no surprise though – its origin is unclear and its meaning will depend on individual factors such as values related to romance, our own belief and value systems, environmental factors and stressors and life circumstances as well as experiences of love, affection and attachment. The spectrum of responses to valentine’s day is similar to the uncertainty about the origin of valentine’s day itself – neither are clear cut. Taking time to understand how your partner perceives Valentine’s day may be the key to a healthy transition through the middle of February. Because let’s face it, it’s not just one day – the build and aftermath are just as important to think about.

Does the history of the day matter anymore?

There are several theories about the origin of V-Day:

  • Some say it is related to Saint Valentine who secretly married Christian couples at a time when the Roman empire banned the practice – this would make the day a remembrance day marking his martyrdom on 14th February
  • Perhaps Valentine’s day is related to Lupercalia, an ancient Roman festival dedicated to Lupercus, the God of shepherds and fertility. This celebration then would have started with a time of feasting, sacrifice, and revelry, when young men would run through the streets of Rome, striking women with goatskin thongs to promote fertility.
  • Maybe it is associated with the Goddess Juno Februata who was worshipped in ancient Rome as the goddess of love and fertility.
  • Perhaps the Chaucerian theory is correct which stipulates that the day originated from the medieval English poem “The Parliament of Fowls” written by Geoffrey Chaucer in the 14th century, which links the day to the celebration of love and romance.

Whatever the origin, it is clear now that the festival has evolved to become associated with love and romance and displays of affection.

Reactions to the current stage of Valentines are not always in line with expectations of love and romance and this will be to do with a number of factors.

How is V-Day perceived?

 Valentine’s day is often associated with marked expressions of love and affection through gifts, romantic gestures and intimacy. There are expectations and subsequent pressures of it being celebrated in a way that is correct and up to standard.

How couples view it is important to how it is managed – is it viewed as:

  • A gentle reminder to put effort into already existing relationship goals – a simple extension of what is already practiced in relationships. For this group of people, the day will most likely feel comfortable and not particularly triggering.
  • A push towards showing affection in a relationship which usually lacks this display – this could lead to some increase in stress and conflict as it can feel effortful in a world where there is already to much to do.
  • Some people may however view the day as burdensome, as it can bring with is a sense of obligation and expectation which is being set by the outside force.Some couples may have no alignment with the day whatsoever

How couples might get through the day

Conflict will inevitably develop when expectations differ and communication around those are poor or when emotional needs are left unmet.

  • Some partners may along with the day for the sake of it or to keep their partner happy, and this can work as long as there is some genuine effort involved and a clear emphasis on valuing their partners needs and feelings.
  • Other couples may share a genuine agreement about not needing to mark this day and simply let it pass by like any other day.
  • Others may go on to mark a special day in their own way on their own terms and even on their own day.
  • Some couples may ignore the day altogether, out of avoidance of communication of their relationship status rather then a shared belief that it holds not value

The day is more likely to be marked in a non-confrontational way if the couple marking it are in line with their views or beliefs about the meaning of love and affection.

These shared values and beliefs and the willingness to compromise can manifest in relationships where communication and expectations are clearly expressed and equally valued.  However, if there is some pull back or resistance from only one partner, this is where it can get tricky and can lead to various tensions.

Communication is key

At some point in any healthy relationship a decision needs to be made about what is important to each person, why it’s important and how to communicate that to each other. Conflicts tend to happen when there is a misalignment on beliefs and a lack of awareness and communication of each other’s needs and how to tend to those. Sticking to a belief rigidly with little explanation will lead to potential distress and alienation from each other. Sticking to a belief but compromising or being able to gently explain the belief and affirming love in other ways may help to create a clearer direction for how to navigate the day in the future and align couple goals about the day (which may be pro or against the day itself).

However, the day itself and the media hype surrounding that day, can actually create a sense of oppressiveness and stifle affection between couples for the very reason that there are so many connotations attached to how to show love. While some may interpret Valentines as a way to be guided on how to show affection, others may feel as though they are being told how to be a loving partner and that can itself feel overbearing and controlling. For those who feel this way and chose not to display affection on the day, they are not neglecting their partner necessarily, instead they are pulling back from a feeling of being told what to do by a system.  If their partner tries to push them towards the day they may start to feel controlled and push back on their partner leading to conflict or detachment. Again, communication is key for getting to the route of what the difference is about and how to manage any emotional distress relating to this.

The potential drawbacks of valentines and why it pushes others away

Scepticism about the day can be related to it being seen as a commercial holiday encouraging people to spend money and show love through gift giving rather than a celebration of love and affection in a way that is meaningful to a couple. This is a particularly difficult at this time when money is tight for all. It can be a stressful process, living up to another’s expectations in the gift giving process. The pressure to have a perfect date or gift can create unrealistic expectations. The day itself can be another stressor to a relationship which is barely surviving due to increased pressures put on couples to be fully functioning in an increasingly disconnected and highly expectant society. Finding the time to even think about marking the day can be stressful enough.

We can argue that superficial aspects of relationships are being emphasised rather than deeper emotional connection. Not meeting up to expected standards can actually lead to disappointment, doubts about the relationship and feeling undervalued which in turn can cause conflict – the exact opposite intent of the day. It can also be very triggering and lonely for people who are single, or don’t have anyone to share the day with because past relationship trauma, loss or bereavement.

Feeling angry about the day is also another common reaction. This is most likely due to an amalgamation of several factors that are provoking because of previously held beliefs. For example, if a partner does not manage to create the flawless date, and picks up on signs that they have disappointed their significant other, this might trigger feelings of sadness, guilt or even shame. This can then trigger thoughts of not being good enough, or feeling like a failure. Equally, if a partner senses a lack of interest in making them feel loved or special, they may start to feel unloved, alone and uncared for. Either situation is likely to be related to previously held beliefs about worth and might go back to how they have been treated in the past in other relationships, friends, or family members. Most likely it is related to earlier experiences of their own attachment and sense of worth and self-esteem.  Some people might react to these triggers by withdrawing and distancing themselves, others might react defensively, showing some anger and blaming the other for being too demanding or ungrateful. Another potential reaction might be that they feel they need to work harder to create the desired response and to make up for the apparent failure. This people pleasing response can be exhausting and create a sense of never being good enough.

Why do people want to opt in to Valentines even when they know it’s commercially fuelled?

We all have an innate need for love and affection and to feel connected. It’s a part of our genetic make-up. Valentine’s day may feel like a quick way to meet those needs. For people who agree on how to mark the day this can feel like a safe way to display affection and affirm ones love for another. For others it may feel like proof that they have worth and importance. In a society which is increasingly demanding, being made to feel loved, cared for and special by someone is a need which might not need to be fought even when there is little agreement with the reason for it.

Being able to tune into what you independently think about the day and how you actually want to have your needs met is the most important practice to develop. In an increasingly self-focussed and materialistic culture, couples would benefit from finding ways to show love which are personal, meaningful and unique to them.

The take-aways

  • It is really important to take any of these commercial holidays light-heartedly.
  • Your value as a person or a couple is not dependent on whether you celebrate or mark these days.
  • The aim is to pay attention to understanding what it important and meaningful for you when it comes to love and affection.
  • Learning about each other and connecting to each other through effective, sensitive and thoughtful communication about each other’s needs and wants is an important part of growing a healthy loving relationship.
  • Be aware of how your partner may be triggered by high expectations and also focus on what your partner needs and how to provide that in a way that feels comfortable for you.
  • Use V-day as a simple prompt towards understanding love and affection in your relationship.
  • Rather than falling into the all or nothing approach to love when it comes to Valentines day, perhaps you can simply use the day as a reminder to put control back in your hands about how to define your relationship goals.
  • You get to decide how and when to show your love and affection. Focussing on your values for relationships and understanding your beliefs around love and where they come from can drive healthy growth and enable your connection.

When the communication has broken down

For couples who are struggling to communicate, and feel like they need some support, or for partners who feel alone in their relationship, it might be time to reach out to talk to someone about what you re going through. Spending time reflecting on your needs and your relationship in a non-judgemental and safe environment might provide you with the space you need to think through things more reflectively. If you want to talk to someone about your hidden hurts, get in touch with Dr Kaur and her team today by completing this form today – Contact Us.

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Dr Gurpreet Kaur, Chartered Clinical Psychologist & EMDR Practitioner

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