Beyond Clichés: Celebrate Valentine's Day with Meaningful Moments

Feb 13, 2024

It’s no secret that Valentine’s Day can impact mental health, regardless of relationship status. For a day that’s meant to celebrate love, it can often perpetuate harmful and destructive feelings. If you’re single, you may feel lonelier than usual this holiday. If you’re in a relationship, you likely feel pressure to have the most romantic day imaginable. 

Meanwhile, advertisements litter social media telling us that the only way to enjoy Valentine’s Day is through a purchase. Research shows that social media on Valentine’s Day is dominated by commercial messages with themes of shopping and gifting being positioned as the best way to show your affection. Even singles are targeted with commercial messages promoting products for “self love.” 

This expectation of showcasing love through material gestures, including “self love,” creates even more pressure. What if my partner doesn't like my gift? What if I can’t afford a gift, flowers, and dinner? These gifts of love may provide momentary joy but the stress from it all can have lasting effects on your well-being.

“Relationships are the single most important thing to you in your life,” says relationship expert and researcher, Dr. Lewandowski. “It’s the source of all of your best memories. It’s the source of all of your worst memories…. Our relationships, they build us, they define us, they sustain us, and they can break us too.” In his research, Dr. Lewandowski argues that relationships are really about self expansion. Our first relationship we’re in is the one with ourselves. It’s the longest relationship we’ll ever have, and it influences all of our other relationships.

So instead of commercialized Valentine's Day norms, consider using this occasion for self-exploration and mutual understanding. Not only will it help your well-being, but it will help your relationships too. To help you achieve this, we’ve curated a list of activities to try this Valentine’s Day.

For You

Doing things for yourself isn’t just for singles. Taking time to care for yourself impacts every aspect of your life, including your relationships. No matter what your relationship status is, you'll discover more satisfaction and happiness from investing time in understanding yourself. 

  1. Self-discovery is easier said than done. Fortunately, relationship experts Dr. Lewandowski Jr. and Dr. Mattingly offer insight on how to go about it. Inspired by an existing questionnaire that fast-tracked friendships, they asked themselves, "could we help individuals enhance their self-knowledge and self-understanding through guided reflection?" Leveraging their research on self-concept, the duo developed a 6-part questionnaire to accomplish just that.

    All you need is roughly 15 minutes for each part, which means you're only 90 minutes away from a happier you. Get the full list of questions and more information here. Now instead of stressing about presents, dinner, or being alone on Valentine’s Day, you can tune out the commercial messages and dedicate time to yourself for a meaningful and enriching experience.
  2. Are you in a relationship, but spending Valentine’s Day alone this year? Maybe it’s time to find out if your relationship has a future. Check out these 15 questions to help determine if your relationship will likely succeed, or if you should cut your losses now. It may sound harsh, but sometimes the most humane thing is moving on before either party has invested any more time or effort into the relationship. And keep in mind, if your results suggest ending your current relationship, break-ups don’t have to be all bad. As painful as they can be, break-ups trigger growth and self expansion as well – especially when it’s a breakup from a bad or toxic relationship.
  3. Did you ever realize that dating is a learned skill? No one starts out good at it, but with practice, it gets easier like with any skill. That’s because dating isn’t just about being lucky enough to find the One or to fall in love at first sight. These are dating myths that hold you back from discovering true love. “With a growth mindset around dating skills…you can rewrite any stories that have blocked you from finding your ultimate happily ever after,” says Damona Hoffman, author of F the Fairy Tale: Rewrite the Dating Myths and Live Your Own Love Story.

    That’s why you should brush up on some dating advice from real dating coaches. Even if you’re in a relationship, you never truly stop dating your partner. Read up on some dating advice before your dinner date to really wow your partner.

For Them

Researchers have uncovered that romantic love has 3 fundamental aspects across gender, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status: positive responsiveness (to needs), authentic connection, and a sense of stability. Positive responsiveness was the strongest aspect identified in the study, and it refers to showing your partner affection, supporting their needs, and enhancing their sense of worth. Affection is fairly universal, but showing support and enhancing self-worth can look different from person to person. So how do you know how to support your partner best?

  1. Show them some invisible support. Showing up and being present is only the first step. You don’t get an A in class just for showing up and paying attention though – you need to do homework and pass your exams.

    Being present with your partner is kind of like paying attention in class. When you’re present with your partner, you notice more about them, and your brain files that information away for when you need it. Do dirty dishes in the sink make them grumpy in the morning? Do they love the dog excitedly greeting them when they get home? Being present for your partner when you’re together is important for maintaining an authentic connection, but it also informs your approach to supporting your partner.

    And sometimes the best support is invisible. When you do something for your partner, they may feel pressured to return the favor or guilt when they don’t. Invisible support helps your partner without any expectation of reciprocity. It may sound like a thankless job, but supporting each other more invisibly will improve your partner’s mood, your overall relationship, and everyone’s quality of life. What does invisible support look like? It can be filling your partner’s gas tank, getting the dog riled up before your partner gets home, or simply biting your tongue the next time you’re tempted to correct their pronunciation.

    So take 15-30 minutes this Valentine’s Day to brainstorm ways you can be invisibly supporting your partner – and then try them! You’ll be amazed how your partner's mood can dramatically change when they secretly have someone looking out for them.

  2. If you’ve been a team for a while now, your day-to-day looks a lot different from those early days. Between work, family, and household duties, it’s easy for the romantic relationship to slip into a more business-like relationship, which is why it’s so important to remind each other how you feel and to show your commitment to each other.

    Write your partner a heartfelt card about how you feel about your partner for Valentine’s Day. You can start off by writing a list of the reasons why you picked them to be your partner or how they make each day more fun, and then weave the best of your list into your card. Not only will this make your partner feel loved and appreciated, but it will also help you practice more gratitude and feel more satisfied with your relationship.
  3. Quiet your anxious mind. It’s human nature to fill in the blanks, and depending on your past experiences, your mind may be making some inappropriate assumptions. Why are they taking so long to respond to my text? Are they with someone?

    Depending on your attachment style, past relationship trauma, and general wellbeing, you may find yourself questioning your partner and their behaviors often. This can make it really difficult in your relationship because trust is necessary. Your partner will likely feel hurt that you don’t trust them. But in reality, it’s got nothing to do with their character and everything to do with your past. It’s completely understandable how you got there. However, it’s not fair to your partner to stay in that place. Being anxious in your relationships isn’t a one day fix, but you can start the process this Valentine’s Day by following this guide on how to avoid overthinking.

For Us

The hard, but simple truth is that love isn’t easy. Relationships take work to make them last, and keep the magic alive. If you’re relying on monetary gifts to make your relationship last, then you may find yourself disappointed. Gifts can’t replace true connection and affection. Instead of pulling out credit cards to show your love this year, strengthen your bond with these proven strategies for a happier relationship.

  1. Commit to the 4 hour relationship rule. You’ve probably heard of the 4-Hour Workweek and similar concepts for optimizing how to manage your time. That’s because it’s extremely effective. Carving time out for your relationship isn’t any different. After accounting for a 40-hour workweek, and 56 hours of sleep, everyone has roughly 72 hours of free time. Dedicating 4 of those hours to your relationship shows that it’s a priority to your partner, and allows for intentional bonding.

    You don’t need to pick 4 consecutive hours though. It can be 2 hours on Saturday, and 20 minutes on every other day. Or it could be 2 hours on Friday, an hour on Sunday, and 30 minutes on Tuesday and Wednesday. It doesn’t matter how you break up the time as long as it works for both you and your partner. Not sure how to spend that time? Head over to Berkeley’s Greater Good in Action site for some creative ideas.
  2. If you haven’t already, fill out the 5 love language quiz to better understand how to best show love to one another. Already know your partner’s love language? Then maybe it’s time to move beyond the love languages. Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Dr. Amy Smith, has her clients consider 5 things that their partner could do each week that would make them feel loved and appreciated. She then asks her clients to follow this format for writing it down to share their partner:

    I would feel [emotion word] if you [specific action of their partner] because [how would that action create that feeling].

    When you’re finished, you’ll have 5 statements to share with your partner to help grow a deeper connection. It can range from little things like holding hands in public to something more effortful like a special date night. The goal is to be honest and vulnerable about your feelings, but also practical so your partner can realistically deliver on your request. Asking your partner to write your name in the stars is definitely romantic, but sadly, just not possible in this day and age.
  3. Fight it out. This may sound like crazy advice, but relationship experts argue that couples need to fight more. Researchers found that talking about your relationship is considered the #1 taboo topic for 1 in 3 people, and one of the top topics to avoid for 7 in 10 people. There’s a misconception that conflict inherently means something bad, so people try to avoid it. However, studies show that people who thought “arguing should not be tolerated” were generally less satisfied and more aggressive, and that the women in these relationships were more depressed. Avoiding conflict means we don’t improve our relationship, how we communicate, or how we treat each other, which is why relationship experts claim there’s no progress without arguments.

    All that aside, it’s important to also recognize that conflict and arguing doesn’t mean yelling over each other, name calling, or placing blame. These are defensive behaviors, and should be avoided in resolving conflicts. Always maintain an “us vs. the problem” perspective, and not a “me vs. them.” For healthy conflict resolution, you need to work together, which means being respectful, empathetic, and patient with each other.

    If you have an issue you want to address with your partner, be sure to ask if they are in the right headspace and emotional place to have that discussion. Make sure you aren’t placing blame, but are focused on how you feel. And keep in mind that arguments don’t need to be resolved in one conversation. If you or your partner is having a hard time, and the argument is escalating, then take a break. It’s better that you pause the argument before it escalates, and regrettable things are said. And never fight when you are hungry or tired.

To wrap things up, Valentine’s Day is supposed to be a day to celebrate love and relationships. Yet it’s become so commercialized that Valentine’s Day may actually be hurting your relationship. Let’s reclaim this day by shutting off social media, and diving into proven strategies for bolstering our relationships. Love is the gift, and it’s up to us to give it freely and to cherish it.

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