The Perfect Valentine's Day Gift: A new picture of your partner!

David Olsen, Ph.D., LCSW and Erin Belanger, LMHC

What’s your favorite picture of your partner? Most of us have a special picture in a nice frame that brings out the best in our partner. Perhaps a picture during a sunset by the ocean, or one with your children in a moment of joy, or perhaps in the midst of an athletic event. Whatever your favorite picture is, it brings out the best of your partner and the frame you select makes it look even better. No one looks for the worst possible picture of their partner and then proudly displays it in a gaudy frame. In reality, we do the opposite!

Unfortunately, that is not necessarily the way we live out our relationships. While we all have several pictures that we enjoy, there are other pictures that we hold onto that are far from flattering and might even be destructive. Let’s take a look at how relationships progress and where the danger of locking into negative pictures of one another comes about:

So, how, you may be asking, do we work through the de-idealization process and navigate toward mature love? 

  1. Allow yourself to be confused. When we assert that we know why our partner is doing something, we lose the ability to see our partner. For example, saying, “He is such an angry person!” misses other important details that would allow you to understand your partner as a whole person. Instead, allowing yourself to not know might be acknowledging, “My partner is angry a lot lately and I’m not sure what’s going on.” This allows you to explore with your partner, and perhaps hear that they are actually very hurt. Remind yourself there are a number of explanations for every behavior, and that your explanation may not be reality.
  2. Be careful of attributing intentionality!! That is, deciding that what your partner did was intended to hurt you.  Once this happens, pictures become even more negative
  3. Ask questions and be curious! Next time you have some time together, reflect on what you’ve been noticing with your partner and ask about it. For example, if you’ve been feeling shut out of your partner’s life, you might start a conversation by saying, “I have been feeling more distance between us lately, and I was wondering what you’re feeling?” A slow and non-confrontational/non-assumption-based start will help create space to explore together without blame.
  4. Keep self-focus at the forefront of your attention. Check in with yourself and what you’re feeling. Ask yourself how your behaviors or communication style might be negatively impacting your partner. Recognize these with your partner.
  5. Reality check: don’t have conversations in your head. Try talking, with awareness of how you present yourself, to your partner about your concerns without anticipating what their reaction might be.
  6. At the end of the day, remember what you fell in love with and try to bring it out. Staying grounded in what you love about your partner will help you stay open to seeing the whole kaleidoscoping picture of who they are.

This Valentine’s day, in honor of St. Valentine and his rebellious fight for love, fight for the health of your own relationship by opening up your picture of your partner with the steps above.