From a hotel room filled with 1,000 roses to a movie night under the stars, our social media feeds are being inundated with advertising in the run-up to Valentine’s Day, or Valentine’s Weekend, as it’s already become. That’s because, for some people — make that 80 per cent of Americans polled in a January survey — Valentine’s Day is more exciting than Christmas.
But with those highly charged emotions comes the need for romantic perfection, which also makes the day one of the most stressful on the calendar. “Valentine’s Day isn’t about adding more pressure and figuring out how much you love each other and how to show that love for each other,” says Anne Jackson, a certified wellness, relationship and life coach based in Dubai. “It is about having quality time together that is light and fun and just enjoying each other.” She suggests using the day to improve your relationship. “Valentine’s Day is a great day to say, I’m going to give you time today; I’m going to be just yours. To make that time for each other.” In other words, turn V-Day into We-Day.
Every day is V-Day
Indian expats Aisha Shaikh and her husband, Kafeel Azeem take the view that every day is Valentine’s Day. While that’s a common enough sentiment, they put that into practice by making time for each other on a daily basis. Every day Kafeel drops Aisha to work and picks her up. “So we have that time together to catch up on the drama at work,” Aisha says. “By the time we get home, we’ve gotten rid of the tension and can focus on each other. But he’ll often surprise me in the evenings with flowers or hot samosas and tea picked up at a cafeteria on the way, or I’ll buy him a Snickers bar at lunch because he loves them. We don’t need an occasion to show our love.”
This everyday approach can boost intimacy. “Research has shown that in general individuals are happier if they experience smaller doses of pleasure or joy over an extended period, as opposed to larger doses interspersed once or twice during that same period,” says Dr Sheetal Kini, Clinical Psychologist at Lighthouse Arabia. “Similarly smaller gestures of love throughout the months and the year have a much greater impact than one or two grand gestures in that same year.”
Different with kids
Couples who are several years into a relationship may find that life’s responsibilities may take precedence over each other and that they may communicate in terms of schedules: who’s picking up the kids, what chores need doing, what bills paying. “We often forget to speak about the more meaningful things in life, or politics,” Jackson says. “We just take each other for granted.”
Instead of putting the emphasis on big-bang moments that you can upload straight to social media, use Valentine’s Day to focus on each other. Do things together that help you rediscover why you fell in love with your partner, by way of experiences that you both like or by doing something out of your comfort zone. “Book a cooking class and cook a risotto together,” she says. “Or seek out a bit of adventure by going ziplining. Go karting, where you can both have fun and laugh. Go to Bounce, where you can get in touch with your inner child again.
"You don’t see many children wanting to go to a restaurant.”
If you do go to a restaurant, focus on emotional intimacy. Dr Kini advises putting your phone aside for the duration, while putting everyday issues such as scheduling and chores to the side. “Conversations could take the form of a game where couples take turns asking questions to deepen your understanding of what is going on in your partner’s life,” she says. Ask open-ended questions, such as, ‘How have you been feeling about your social life lately?’ or ‘What are you most looking forward to in the next five years?’
Find your own personal love story
Overall, it’s important to figure out what works for you as a couple, and what syncs with your personalities, both individually and together. Every couple is unique, says Dr Mohamed Yousaf, Specialist Psychiatrist at Aster Clinic, Al Muteena.
“Valentine’s Day is a huge thing for some people. It may be just a normal day for others. Depending on the way you see it, a couple can go all out and make the day extra special with a candlelight dinner or a quick romantic getaway or it could be as simple as enjoying a night in, giving time to each other with Netflix and popcorn in the comfort of home,” he says. “It’s important not to compare yourselves with others, especially with all the drama you see on social media. Don’t set any expectations. Valentine’s Day is all about enjoying the little things and making memories.”
The American talk-show host Gary Chapman identified the ways in which people experience and express love in his books, the Five Love Languages series. They are receiving gifts, quality time, words of affirmation, acts of service, and physical touch. Chapman’s view is that everyone has one primary love language and a secondary one.
“Understanding how your partner expresses love is a great way to figure out how to celebrate Valentine’s Day,” Jackson says. “Or even just doing the five love languages questionnaire is lovely time spent together.”
Beware the V-Day breakup
Relationships can sometimes crack under the weight of expectations around Valentine’s Day. Anecdotally, this is when many couples break up.
“This happens because people may be quietly ignoring their distress for months on end in the relationship, says Dr Sheetal Kini, a Clinical Psychologist at Lighthouse Arabia. “Valentine’s Day becomes a time that one naturally begins thinking about how happy/unhappy they are with their partners, or if they are unhappy or hurt, expect their partners to use the day as a way to redeem themselves and ‘make it up’ to them.”
Another reason is not investing in the relationship on a day-to-day basis but waiting for such occasions to show their partner how much they care. “A relationship is something you work on every day, you constantly choose to love your partner every day,” says Dubai-based relationship and life coach Anne Jackson. “People forget to flirt and slump into a relationship as it were. So take that into account and become that flirtatious, carefree person just for a night.”
How can couples shore up their relationships, then? Kini reiterates the pointlessness of waiting for big occasions such as Valentine’s Day, birthdays, or anniversaries to show you care and to invest in the relationship. “Check in with each other on a more regular basis about how the relationship is doing.”