Valentine’s day often has very different meanings to many people. To some, it signifies a day of romance and the opportunity to celebrate their love. To others, it may mean succumbing to the seductive tactics of the retail world, gregarious peers and the social media. Trouble ensues when one partner feels that they should be spoilt a bit on the day, whilst their partner may not share the same opinion, viewing it as a manipulation of the opportunistic consumer industry and unnecessary expenses.
The difference in opinion in how to celebrate Valentine’s day can cause some distress for couples. From my experience as a relationship therapist, Valentine’s related distress often runs deeper than the difference of opinion pertaining to the meaning of this special day. For many, Valentine’s day may be the rare opportunity where they can feel valued and appreciated by their partner with a visual display of ‘love evidence’ in the form of flowers, chocolates or a romantic dinner. In response to the reluctance to spend money on Valentine’s day, often causes disappointment and anger for some partners and feelings of resentment for the other partner.
In an interview with a couple that have been dating for 2 years, the man said that he bought flowers for his partner most weeks and that they went out for dinner at the weekends. He felt that it was ‘ridiculous’ to pay for an expensive reservation just because “somebody once decided that it was a day to show romance… who made the rules here?”. Irritated, his partner declared that buying her flowers and chocolates or a nice dinner on Valentine’s Day demonstrated that he cared enough for her and that many other people enjoyed the day together. It is also an investment in our relationship’ he added. Clearly, he sees this holiday as a waste of money, and she sees it as a valuable investment.
The relationship therapist could encourage this couple to think more about the meaning of
Valentine’s Day and how they could use it as an opportunity to connect better and to strengthen their relationship. If the couple is dating and the relationship is still new, the disagreement regarding how and what Valentine’s day is about may well be a valuable opportunity to communicate their needs and perceptions of romantic enjoyment generally. Communicating the needs of each party is pivotal in reaching a compromise on how to enjoy Valentine’s Day. Once each party understands and affirms the other one’s needs, a decision can be made that suits both parties.
For example, he agrees that she needs special affirmation or ‘attention’ on Valentine’s Day but is reluctant to spend money and she agrees that he can show her his affirmation by demonstrating this in other, inexpensive ways, (his need) for example a surprise ‘love message’ (her need of affirmation) in her lunch box or under her pillow.
If expensive dinners or activities are a not an option, the couple could cook a special home meal together, enjoying each other’s company by candlelight and soft music. The way to avoid conflict but still to celebrate Valentine’s Day, is to change the perception that the holiday has to be expensive or enjoyed according to what is expected of others and rather do things that have special meaning for the couple. Keeping score of who spends and does what for who should also be avoided. Perhaps they can share the Valentine’s Day expenses, thereby showing affirmation for each other. It also involves a reframing of the concept of ‘Valentine’s Day’, for example: for some it may be reframing the perception that it is “a retail plot to get money from gullible customers”. This perception could be changed by saying “Valentine’s Day is our special day to show affection, but I can do it without great expense but with loving actions and gestures”. And for their partner to accept this and to say, “It is ok not to blow our budget, as long as we both enjoy the day together doing something special”. Now, that is romantic!