From Dr. Jane's Notebook

Valentine's Day success for couples

            Valentine’s Day is filled with dread. As though it were a national report card, this so-called holiday has some kind of power that causes singles and couples alike to consider their levels of isolation and connectedness. Long before February rolls around, newspapers, TV, and the internet remind us to brush up on our dating and mating skills, to check our mail boxes for surprise valentines, and otherwise inflate our expectations for the day. But for those of us who are already part of a couple, perhaps Valentine’s Day can be redefined as a time to improve communication between ourselves and our soul mates. 

·        Love: a matter of talk and touch. People fall in love when they are satisfied that it is safe to communicate. Early in relationships, couples often recall talking easily for hours on end. This kind of communication is indeed a game of “catch” where folks toss the conversation back and forth while paying attention to each other. When we disclose our deepest feelings and experience acceptance, our hearts swell with positive emotions. From here it is a short step to communicating through touch. The more we feel accepted, the safer it feels to be close and to share, and this keeps the game of “catch” going. But when acceptance turns to disapproval, harsh words make us vulnerable. 

·        Loyalty: Shared decision-making with lots of Love. Sexual intimacy is an important barometer of closeness in marriage; it is the closest two people can be. When sexual love is absent in a lifelong relationship, partners become insecure. Sexual rejection undermines trust, creates resentment, and leads to power grabs. Faced with the possibility of lifelong rejection, your mate may become vulnerable to attention from others. 

When people speak of growing apart, they have literally lost track of one another. They have stopped living in a democracy, they make decisions without consensus, and what was ours becomes referred to as yours and mine. Gone is the sense of teamwork and shared victories, gone is the trusting intimacy, and gone is the love and the sense of loyalty.

·        Shared Family Values: Managing conflict and managing roles. We are the architects of our families. Marriages and families are built according to a set of specifications. As children, we collected various blueprints from our families that describe ways to talk, fight, solve problems, and show love. When two people create a new family, each of us brings a set of blueprints from our families of origin. Unless those blueprints are specifically changed, we will remain automatically programmed to behave as our parents did. Unless we discuss our different visions of who does what, we will probably decide just to follow our parents’ examples and duke it out when our ideas disagree.

·        Even when things seem okay, never take your marriage for granted.   Like co-owners of a business or co-captains of a ship, it is essential for members of couples to talk about their likes and dislikes, and make joint decisions about how they will get along. Your job as a couple is to talk about how you want to be treated and what you wish to accomplish in your lives. Without these discussions, you may be running the “company” or steering the ship in two different directions. Couples who do not discuss their differences and seek ways to compromise often make their decisions on the basis of tug-of-war.  The cost is that without shared decision- making, the person without power will become aware of the imbalance of power, trust will break down, and so will the love.

·        Recommendations for improvement.  Ironically, most of us treat our co-workers better than we treat our families. At work, we try to be polite, control our tempers, and use our manners. But at home, it is tempting to leave our manners at the door and treat our loved ones with disrespect. These are habits which are guaranteed to sabotage any relationship. Keep your relationship in check by examining your language. The words, please and thank you must be used regularly, and we must speak to each other with respect.

We must remember that our relationships are voluntary.  When we do things that positively contribute to our family life, it is like giving each other a gift. As with other gifts that we give, most of us like to be thanked and feel appreciated. In our totally human way, we all need love and positive reinforcement daily. Without a sincere thank you, we may feel that our gifts or efforts are not noticed or appreciated, which feels a little bit like going to work but never getting a paycheck. While Valentine’s Day lasts a mere 24 hours, being a successful valentine is an everyday affair that needs all your love and consideration.

©Copyright, 2009, Jane R. Rosen-Grandon. All rights reserved.            

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