Daniel Jay Sonkin, Ph.D. is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in an independent practice in Sausalito, California. Since 1981, his work has focused ...Read More
Those who have been in long-term relationships know that the intense fire we experience during courtship and early marriage eventually changes into a less passionate expression over time. As we become more secure in our relationship, our constant attention to our lover gradually shifts to other people and things that were ignored for months or even years in favor of the new relationship. There is a certain habituation to each other that develops; interactions are less passionate and the more mundane day-to-day aspects of life tend to replace expressions of intense love. This process is intensified with children, where the focus becomes on them, and less on the couple. However this loss of excitement doesn’t necessarily need to play out this way.
Valentine’s Day is one day a year, where couples have an opportunity to reconnect with those earlier passions. It’s a time when people, if motivated, can break out of their routine, and reconnect to those intense feelings of love, appreciation and gratitude that may have faded into the background. But it takes effort to do this and exactly how best to accomplish this renewal of passion can be a tricky business.
According to the conventional wisdom, passion can be heightened through observation of the appropriate Valentine’s Day rituals. For instance, you must find the perfect restaurant for dinner. It has to offer good food and a romantic atmosphere. Convenient parking is also important. You will need to book that restaurant at least a month in advance, since the good ones are also the most popular. Then there are the flowers. Nothing but roses will do the job. Yes, they are pricey, but you can always put them on the credit card. And of course, there are the hours you spend in the store reading every Valentines Day card to find the one that perfectly expresses your thoughts and feelings. And there is the present. Don’t forget the charge card again.
When you think about it, it takes a great deal of effort, and money to live up to the media’s portrayal of the ideal Valentine’s Day celebration. All this consumption does stimulate the economy, so you are definitely providing a great service to society, but it is not clear that the underlying intended purpose of these efforts – to communicate partner’s true affection and passion for one another – are best served. Perhaps there is another less forced and more effective way to celebrate Valentine’s Day; one that is not so expensive, and although it may not stimulate the economy, it can stimulate the love and excitement in your relationship just the same. Instead of Roses, Chocolates and Dinner, you may try becoming more like the actual St. Valentine is supposed to have been.
According to legend, Valentine was a Christian priest who defied the orders of the Roman Emperor, Claudius II, who decreed that soldiers not to be married, because of his belief that single men made better fighters. Valentine would secretly preside over the marriage ceremonies of young men, but he eventually was arrested and sentenced to death for breaking this law. Valentine was a hero in that he believed in love and marriage and acted on those beliefs even at the risk of his own peril. Even before his execution, the Emperor visited Valentine in his jail cell and gave him the opportunity to denounce his beliefs and change his behaviors. Valentine was unwilling to compromise his principles. He even had the courage to try to convince the Emperor of the error of his ways. Valentine’s belief in love was so great, that he was willing to go to his death. So once a year we honor St. Valentine’s sacrifice by showing our beloved just how special they are to us.
In the spirit of St. Valentine, partners can perhaps best communicate their true affection and passion for one another by pausing to reflect on their true feelings of affection and passion for one another and then choose to share those loving feelings in spite of the dangers of doing so.
You might ask, what is dangerous about expressing your love toward your partner? Nothing as dangerous as what St. Valentine faced, but for some people expressing their love can feel dangerous because they are afraid it won’t be returned. When this is the case, it’s hard to focus on loving feelings because they immediately provoke additional painful feelings of anxiety and vulnerability.
For most partners it’s not danger that keeps them from intimacy, but rather the difficulty of sustaining attention to such thoughts due to distraction. Loving feelings can be easily become hidden when other things in our life distract us. Work, school, friendships, parenting, the Internet, television are all distractions that can be exciting and demanding, but can also take us away from feeling the connection we have with our partner. Stopping and paying attention is all that’s needed to reconnect with a deep and profound feeling of love. When you make it a priority to focus on loving feelings, this attention can then set the stage for how you relate to your partner. When you approach your partner from a loving place, your partner will experience most anything you do as loving; even if it’s something as pedestrian as eating takeout in front of your fireplace because the electricity went out due to a recent snowstorm.
The nice thing about stopping the distractions and really focusing on your love, gratitude and appreciation for your partner is that you can do it any time of the year. It doesn’t have to be just on St. Valentines Day. It doesn’t have to be shown through expensive gifts, eating out at fancy restaurants or finding the perfect card. These rituals are simply expressions designed to motivate people to share how they feel. They aren’t necessary, however. You can choose to share how you feel and in the process heighten the intimacy you feel with your partner in their absence. It begins with taking a break from all the commotion that fill our lives, turning our attention inwards toward our bodies and reflecting on our experiences of passion and affection. Your partner may not respond perfectly the first time or even notice a change in your behavior. But, neuroscience shows, the more you feel your love, gratitude and appreciation for others- really let yourself feel those emotions – the more likely your emotions will infect others, so that they’ll start to feel them too. When you make it a priority to focus on your love, everyday can become Valentine’s Day.