When our son Matt graduated from high school in 2013, his daily routines and patterns, developed for years within the same safe, supportive environment, came to an end. We asked ourselves, how can we fill 168 hours each week with meaningful, purposeful activities and not allow Matt to slide backwards.
By Darlene Lancer, MFT
Valentine’s Day creates a lot of expectations that are often unrealized. It’s fraught with landmines, whether you’re in or out of a relationship, the grass isn’t always greener. Is your situation described here? Read six tips to having a great holiday.
I can recall Valentine’s Days I wished I were in love with someone who loved me. Worse, were Valentine’s Days when I missed an ex or spent time thinking about someone who wasn’t in love with me. Looking back, what was sad was that I made myself unhappy and ruined days thinking about “if only.”
You’re in a New Relationship
Another Valentine’s trap happens when you’re newly in love. It may be the first Valentine’s Day of your relationship, and you wonder whether your partner will surprise you with something special. Will he or she ignore the day or hopefully say the unmentionable, four-letter L-word?
You’re stressed about whether your card should be funny or mushy. Fears of humiliation and abandonment restrain you from being more vulnerable with your feelings than your partner. You don’t want your feelings rejected or to scare off him or her.
If you’re a guy – usually – you could be afraid of hurting her feelings by not doing or saying enough, yet are reticent to do or say too much, which might be misinterpreted as a commitment you’re not prepared to make.
You’re in a Fight
One of the worst feelings on Valentine’s Day is to be in a fight with your partner. Any other day wouldn’t be as painful, but on Valentine’s Day, your worst fears and disappointments about your partner and the relationship are heightened. In addition to being hurt or angry about the argument, you contrast your feelings to how you imagine the day should be and how you want to feel.
Another unhappy situation is if your partner is an addict. You don’t have to be fighting to be on egg-shells all day and disappointed because he’s practicing an addiction, ignoring you, or is looking for a fight to avoid admitting he didn’t plan anything or doesn’t want to go out. You can easily spend the entire day looking and waiting for cues, wondering whether or not you will spend the evening together. It’s hard to generate loving feelings seeing your wife neglecting the children or drunk all day.
You’re in a Dull or Dead Relationship
Many couples in long relationships have lost the spark of love. Valentine’s Day may be a cruel reminder or an opportunity to rekindle it. When romance fades, it can be replaced with love based on deep caring and shared life experience. You might decide not to do anything special. Yet you can still acknowledge your love for each other – even if it’s not romantic love, it’s deep and abiding.
Some relationships have died. Intimacy’s gone, but the couple can’t let go, whether due to age, children, health, or finances, but usually, despite those reasons, there’s a deep attachment. Often one person imagines he or she is staying for the other and is in denial of his or her own attachment needs and fears about leaving.
You’re in a Loving Relationship
You’re among the fortunate few if you’re in a long, loving relationship. Valentine’s Day may still present problems, especially for husbands who don’t want to disappoint their wives. You can get caught in the dilemma of not being able to decide whether to surprise your wife or ask her what she’d like. It’s okay to ask. Some people rather know, but beware of a common trap, advises Jeff, when your significant other replies, “It doesn’t really matter, I’m just happy with all you do, and you shouldn’t get me anything.” Jeff wisely cautions, “Get him or her something special, and don’t fall for this gambit. You fail to act at your own peril.”
Wives, too, can get caught up in waiting and wondering, and not wanting to upset plans their husbands’ may have made. Nancy recalls ruining the day worrying because her husband had forgotten Valentine’s Day the year before.
- Stay in the present reality. Take the label off, and just enjoy the day. Don’t look up an ex or waste time fantasizing about someone with whom you’re not involved. Don’t think about your relationship’s future or troubles or replay past disappointing holidays.
- Take responsibility for your feelings. If you’re experiencing painful emotions honor them – for a half-hour. Then plan a great day. Remember it takes two to have an argument. Take responsibility for your contribution and your feelings. Own them, apologize if necessary, and make a fresh start with your partner. You’re the one who suffers if you don’t. Waiting for an apology feeds your resentment.
- Let go of expectations. They plant the seeds of disappointment and resentment. Instead, be open to what your partner and the universe have in store for you.
- Focus on giving love. Remember the love you feel is the love you give. Even if you’re in a relationship, write yourself a love letter about your wonderful traits and acts of courage. Tell yourself you love you. Read it aloud in the mirror. This may sound foolish, but it works and boosts your self-esteem! You can also focus on the positive traits of your partner. Imagine opening your heart and sending him or her love. If that’s difficult, recall a time when you shared love, and then bring that memory fully into the present.
- Be creative. It shows an investment of time, love, and thought when you create something special. You can create a treasure hunt for your partner to find a gift or card. Instead of roses, sprinkle the bed with flower petals. Give a sensuous candlelit foot rub, massage, or body wash. Write your favorite, shared memories with colored pens. Make a collage of your dream home, family, or past or future adventures together designed with leaves, dried flowers, photographs, or magazine clippings.
- Whatever you do, be real. Your true feelings are apparent anyway, and hiding them creates more problems. That doesn’t mean you have to spill your guts, but in a dicey situation, choose words that are true for you.
©2012 Darlene Lancer, MFT
This article was originally published here, and is republished with the author’s kind permission.
Darlene Lancer is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and expert on relationships and codependency. She’s the author Conquering Shame and Codependency: 8 Steps to Freeing the True You and Codependency for Dummies and six ebooks, including: 10 Steps to Self-Esteem, How To Speak Your Mind – Become Assertive and Set Limits, Dealing with a Narcissist: 8 Steps to Raise Self-Esteem and Set Boundaries with Difficult People and Freedom from Guilt and Blame – Finding Self-Forgiveness, also available on Amazon. Ms. Lancer has counseled individuals and couples for 30 years and coaches internationally. She’s a sought after speaker in media and at professional conferences. Her articles appear in professional journals and Internet mental health websites, including on her own, www.whatiscodependency.com, where you can get a free copy of “14 Tips for Letting Go.”