Building Relationships: Embracing Valentine’s Day- On Your Own Terms

Valentine’s Day can evoke a variety of reactions. The typical image of Valentine’s Day is one of romance with a perfect setting, a perfect meal, and maybe a perfect conversation on the beach, but reality tells us that the perfect experience is rare.

It is helpful to emphasize that Valentine’s Day can be an enjoyable celebration of romantic relationships. Many couples see this as a wonderful opportunity to take time out of the normal routine and focus on each other, or simply express thoughts and feelings of deep affection that are experienced throughout the year.

However, some may find that Valentine’s Day ushers in a time of disappointment. With all the benefits and exciting possibilities of the holiday, many people find themselves disillusioned and unsatisfied with their experience. This dissatisfaction may even lead to anxiety, depression, or diminished self-esteem.

Over the years, I have counseled clients who have experienced increased stress over Valentine’s Day, even when they are in relationships. This may happen when a relationship is not fulfilling expectations or the relationship one seeks is not available. Relationships may be stressed by external life circumstances, such as the loss of a job, a lack of social support outside the relationship, or coping with illness or death.

Dissatisfaction also may occur when a couple is struggling in their relationship. Challenges may arise from the sense that there is a lost connection between the partners or one person is feeling devalued by their significant other. Maybe there have been serious betrayals in the relationship or the two romantic partners have begun to drift apart. Perhaps withdrawals from the “love bank” have occurred over time with negative interactions and no replenishment.

In light of the challenges that people may experience around Valentine’s Day, these five recommendations may help provide direction and insight on how to regain joy and purpose when negative feelings threaten to become overwhelming. 

Emphasize Your Value

This is an important time to recognize that your value is not determined by how you celebrate a day but by how you live your life. This may not be easy when we have feelings of low self-worth. In these moments it may feel like we are forcing ourselves to be positive, and maybe we are, but knowing we are speaking the truth about the reality of our situation may provide the self-coaching strategy we need to push through a difficult time. This may include statements affirming your value and importance, or emphasizing the meaning your life holds. “I have value.” “I care about many people who experience my kindness.” “People enjoy me and my involvement in their lives, like … [name them].” “God loves me.” “I was created with purpose.” Which statement speaks to you the most? It may seem simplistic, but there is much to be said for speaking the truth in love. We do it for others, and we can’t forget the importance of doing it for ourselves.

Embrace Your Supports

When you know you are going to feel dissatisfied or disappointed, this can be a good time to surround yourself with people who love and support you. These are people who minimize the expectations our culture places on who we are. You can build a strong support network through work, classes, family, social events, and church. Which one works for you? We are all social beings who crave the engagement of other people. We were made to share one another’s burdens, joys, and even sorrows. Maintaining awareness of when you need these supports most is an important element for continued strength.

Engage in Meaningful Activity

Distraction may be the best solution for redirecting our attention from negative thoughts and emotions. When experiencing intense sadness or anxiety about feeling disconnected on Valentine’s Day, find something enjoyable to do in your own way. Go to a movie you’ve been wanting to see. Connect with friends over coffee or dinner. Set aside time for your favorite hobby, or pick up a new one. Find any opportunity to celebrate in your own way. Distraction is not a new concept. A variety of therapies emphasize alternative thoughts, feelings, and behaviors to help avoid a negative focus. Using your time to actively engage in something productive and fun will support the effort to train your mind to think differently about your experience and cast it in a more favorable light.

Expand Your Notion of Love

If you are experiencing dissatisfaction around Valentine’s Day, you’re probably not alone. This can be a great opportunity to expand the idea of what love really means, compared to the sentimental version we see in stores or on television. This is especially helpful if you have children because you can begin to participate in activities that emphasize a love for mankind, such as serving at a soup kitchen on Valentine’s Day, visiting a nursing home and handing out cards with your children, hosting a meal for family members or friends, sending your children to school with a special note or gift, or spending time with people who may be especially vulnerable on Valentine’s Day (like widows or widowers, or those living away from home). Love is far more than a romantic relationship. You define love by your actions, so serving others and meeting the needs of others by showing them you care is a truly rewarding experience. Once you experience what it feels like to live a life of love, you are likely to continue these actions through the other 364 days of the year.

Encounter Life Goals

The previous suggestions emphasize the importance of recognizing your current focus and taking steps to create a positive experience. While this construct still carries that emphasis, the idea of fully encountering your life goals provides a more future-oriented focus. What do you want love in your life to look like? What kinds of relationships do you want to foster in your life? Where would you find those relationships? How do you define success? What will bring you closer to God, your beliefs, and your values? How can you bring a lifestyle of love to the aspirations you hold? Thinking about your future allows you to reject the expectations the influences around you can impose, and to then focus on what you truly believe holds value. In those moments of deep self-reflection, we can discover intrinsic meaning that outweighs the momentary sense of loss on any Valentine’s Day. Think about what will be most important to you in 10, 20, or even 30 years. This foresight can help inform the goals that truly are meaningful in life, which in turn can guide your decisions, your energy, and your resources.

Sharing these five recommendations is not in any way intended to minimize feelings of grief, loneliness, or disappointment on Valentine’s Day. These are natural feelings you might have if you come with typical expectations of the holiday. Hopefully, these recommendations instead provide the means to work against these tendencies and create a more meaningful Valentine’s Day experience. It is my hope that you find love, peace, and joy and that your celebration is enriched as you emphasize your value, embrace your supports, engage in meaningful activity, expand your notion of love, and encounter life goals in a new way.

 Want another faculty perspective on Valentine’s Day? Read Building Relationships: How to Celebrate Love While Single on Valentine’s Day.