H. Laurence Schwab, M.F.T.

Navigating Your Relationship

Valentine’s Day account

Valentine’s Day can be a mixed blessing for couples. Of course, it is ideally a moment to celebrate your special partnership and shared mission, but it also puts your expectations and behaviors under a brightly lit microscope. Actions and reactions are felt deeply, noted and accounted for, and perhaps debated with passion.

Many couples find themselves “walking on eggshells” instead of really enjoying the celebration. The day can turn into an unwelcome opportunity to argue, establish who seems to be winning and losing, and may set the tone for many interactions to come.

When a couple comes to my office after a rocky Valentines Day, quite often their voyage has gotten complicated and is disappointing and draining for the couple. I encourage them to look at the way they are building an account with each other, full of payments, withdrawals, bills overdue, and maybe some borrowing and charging of interest.

The reality is that Valentine’s Day puts the fragile world of intimacy in the spotlight. If becoming part of a committed couple has turned one or both of you into an accountant, it is not surprising, but you have done so at some risk, and it may cost something. It is not surprising that either of you would want things to feel fair, and to start demanding equity and comparing behaviors, but it is also part of how relationships get complicated and confounding. What tends to happen is that the person feeling some sort of injustice begins to justify their own behavior in response to the perceived unfairness. It is only a short step to calculating, keeping a balance sheet, and making a case for your own behavior. Once this begins to happen over time, it is easy to fall into normal banking practices of measuring how much you are giving and taking, holding back credit, borrowing good will, loaning acceptance or forgiveness, and then charging interest. The borrower owes and the banker feels good about the position of power they are in, and the account doesn’t really get balanced again. It is the relationship that suffers as grudges develop, feelings get hurt, and neither person feels safe or satisfied.

Perhaps the best way to celebrate Valentine’s Day is to take stock. Are either of you building up resentment about things that don’t feel fair? Are you taking time as a couple to check in with each other about what the ledger looks like? Is somebody beginning to borrow too heavily or charge interest and enjoy it? Call time out and listen to each other instead of reacting to each other.

When and if Valentine’s Day causes a stressful degree of tension and toxicity, perhaps the healthiest way to handle it is to step back, breathe a little, and basically blame Valentine’s Day for the disruption. It is not the end of the world if your day of celebration does not meet your expectations. It is disappointing and worth discussing. For your own well-being, it makes sense to hit the pause button, focus on the usual way your relationship feels, rather than the emotional extremes that are triggered by this day. Remember that you are navigating a voyage together, with manageable ups and downs. In the more familiar middle, you can define the deeper well of balance, cooperation, teamwork, and integrity that actually gives your partnership depth and meaning.

A shared growth experience on Valentine’s Day may be the best gift of all.

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