Your Post-Valentine's Day Prescription

David Olsen, Ph.D, LCSW

After Valentine’s Day passes and a couple’s relationship resumes day to day, many people are left feeling disappointed and empty. To fill this void, couples often concoct a “Plan B”, attempting to change their spouse as part of their own special “marriage enrichment program.”

Sheri thinks, “If only I can get him to be more romantic, talk more, spend less time watching TV. “Mark muses, “If only I could get her to share more of my interests or stop those annoying habits, then this relationship would improve.” Does any of this sound familiar?

Though most people have forgotten about the holiday itself at this point, it’s not too late to correct whatever mistakes you might have made and delight your valentine in a whole new way. To do this, however, you must recognize the futility of Plan B. Instead give your partner what he or she really wants: change something about yourself.

First, picture your most predictable interaction or argument. Pretend that you are watching it on videotape in slow motion. Notice the following:

  1. Where and when the argument starts: The bedroom? The kitchen? During the morning rush?
  2. Your typical response
  3. Your partner’s response to your response
  4. What causes it to escalate: Are you feeling unseen, rejected, dismissed?
  5. How you each “push buttons”
  6. How the argument ends: Do you resolve it or cool off and then avoid the topic later?

Now ponder whether anything was truly resolved. If you are like most other couples, it probably was not. As your gift to your partner, change your response somewhere along the line. Look at your answers to this list and do something different. If you normally begin the fight, try to cool off first. Bring the issue up later when you’ve had time to think about it. If you typically push your partner’s buttons by saying hurtful things or acting dismissive when they bring something up, try to stay calm and remain open. If you usually get defensive, listen instead. Be an attentive investigator, asking for more information, trying to understand your partner’s feelings. Hold back your opinion or usual response and instead let your partner know that you really want to understand them.

Next, ask periodically, “Do you feel like I’m really getting it?” If your partner says no, say that you really want to and ask for more clarification. Don’t give up if the first time does not work. Changing your response at any point in the dance should change the outcome of the conflict.

Valentine’s Day happens early in the year for a reason: we need a reminder to focus on loving each other well for the whole year. Taking a look at your typical relationship patterns. Make an effort to change your role. This will set the stage for a positive year with your valentine.