February 11, 2012

Happy Valentine’s Day

Will this Valentine’s Day be a happy one for you?  It seems to me that holiday pressure keeps mounting and I’m not sure why.  Perhaps as American families become more fractured through divorce and increased geographic distance intimate family celebrations and ritual become less common and cultural ones are filling that gap.  A generation ago there was not so much emphasis put on expectations for Valentine’s Day, Mothers and Fathers Day, even Christmas.  So what’s going on with Valentine’s Day?

This can pose problems for both people who are involved in happy relationships and people who are single and wishing they were not.  For couples, even ones who are doing well together there can be a sense of pressure about doing the right thing, not disappointing a partner, making a big enough effort.  Valentines Day has become, like most American holidays, a large commercial enterprise.  It is in the interests of florists, restaurants,card and gift stores, jewelry stores, department stores, etc to advertise and push for making these holidays major events.  It is good for business!  Most American families watch TV and most TV shows will have commercials promoting spending money for Valentine’s Day.  The implication is that if you don’t spend enough or do enough for the holiday you are failing in your duties as a spouse or lover.

How do we counteract this type of pressure and keep it from causing stress to us as individuals or hurt feelings in important relationships?  As in most relationship issues, communication is key.  I always recommend that couples discuss how they want to celebrate important events early in their time together.  See if you can agree on an approach that is comfortable for both.  Make it clear if these occasions are not very significant to you and let your partner off the hook if that is your style.  If finances are limited-and most people’s are these days-talk openly about a budget or how the money might best be spent.  Even if your partner is the type ofperson who loves surprises, tackle that issue well in advance of the date of any upcoming holidays.  If the other person is creative and good at thinking about surprises, that’s terrific but you should still have a discussion about the scale and reasonable cost of surprises.  Many people are not that creative about coming up with novel ideas for celebrations.  In that case the approach should be, “I really want to please you but I’m not very good at this.  Can you give me some ideas of the type of thing you would like?”  Get a list.  Right it down!  Follow variations on those themes and ask for advice from friends who may be more in synch with being surprising.  If you try something, ask for honest feedback from your loved one about how things went.  Even if it doesn’t come off perfectly, the effort should please the other person.

What about people who are alone at the time of holidays, people who would prefer to be in relationships?  This includes single people who have never had a long term partner as well as people who have lost a partner through death, divorce or separation.  If you are alone reach out to others who are also single and plan an alternative celebration.  Reach out to children or parents and celebrate in some fashion with them.  Don’t wait for others to take the lead.  Send Valentine’s to your friends, your family members.  Remind yourself of the people you care about and who want the best for you.  Giving love is the best way to avoid feelings of isolation and loneliness at holiday times when the world is filled with images of happy families and couples.  If Valentine’s is an event that makes you feel particularly lonely or blue, use it as an opportunity to develop an action plan for changing your single status.  What can YOU do to make sure the next holiday goes better.  Turn the sense of loss into a sense of purpose to get your future going in the direction you hope for.  These are the strategies that can make this a truly Happy Valentine’s Day.

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