Valentine’s Day will be here in no time. I mention this, not only to give you gentlemen out there a “heads-up” in time to buy a box of chocolates for your sweetie, I also want to recognize a holiday that never seems to get enough respect.
Sure, it is easy to dismiss this annual celebration of love and romance as just a “Hallmark Holiday.” It ranks dead last on the list of America’s favorites (below even Labor Day and Memorial Day). The number of adults who plan on making Valentine’s purchases has been trending downward for the last decade. Only half of us will buy any kind of gift for our sweethearts this month.
That’s a shame because if we separate out the commercial aspects of Valentine’s Day, we are left with perhaps the only day each year that focuses specifically on human relationships. This includes affection, of course, but also understanding and intimacy.
This is a focus that we could put to better use. Nearly a third of couples say they are unhappy in their relationship, and research cites that the leading reason is poor communication—more than infidelity, money problems or family conflict.
The notion is proven wrong every day that bright, successful people should just naturally understand the essential elements of love and commitment. Take a look at high-profile divorces among accomplished celebrities, CEOs, athletes and that nice couple down the street. In fact, some of our most celebrated U.S. Presidents had the worst marriages (Lincoln, FDR, Eisenhower) while some whom historians rank as less accomplished had wonderful ones (Truman, Carter, Ford, G.W. Bush).
“Communication is critical in any relationship,” said Dr. Diana Theiss, a clinical therapist and owner of Sylvania Therapy and Counseling. “Good communication helps reduce stress, maintain connection, and create a sense of support for each other.”
In particular, COVID has strained many relationships over the past two years, Theiss noted. “Couples don’t know if the kids are going to be in school or not, they face financial uncertainty and health worries, there may be a new distribution of household chores. Working from home can make us miss face-to-face contact with co-workers. Yet one or both partners may not understand why they are irritable, why things set them off that didn’t before.”
A concept that Dr. Theiss sometimes uses as a tool to open dialogue among couples is, “The 5 Love Languages,” based on a book by Gary Chapman. The book has sold more than 20 million copies since it was introduced in 1992. The premise is quite simple. Just like linguistics, where most people grow up speaking the native language of their parents, we learn a “love language” from them, as well.
A New York Times survey recently reported the number of people who identified with each of Chapman’s love languages: quality time (28 percent), physical touch (24 percent), acts of service (23 percent), words of affirmation (18 percent) and receiving gifts (6 percent).
Chapman says seldom do two partners share the same emotional language, and they become confused when a partner does not understand the language the other uses to express love. Once they identify a partner’s primary language, they have discovered the key to better communication in a relationship.
I asked Dr. Theiss if the love language book might make a helpful present for couples to give each other this Valentine’s Day.
“It’s very good for opening a discussion about what makes you feel loved and how you show love for your partner. This is not something that people often talk about…they tend to believe that how you give and receive love is understood, but it’s really not,” she said. “Understanding your partner’s love language can be useful in maintaining a feeling of connection.”
Dr. Theiss also recommends books, videos and tools by author John Gottman, but then quickly returns to her common theme for couples: “Make time for meaningful communication; talk every day. Don’t try to have these conversations when the kids are all around or you are cooking dinner or distracted in other ways. Show the other person you are prioritizing your marriage and relationship by dedicating a specific time to connect.”
“Nearly two years of a pandemic has placed stress on relationships,” she concluded. “People can be so distracted that they forget to prioritize each other. When you really feel support and connection from your partner, the stress that you are going through can be much more manageable.”
That not only sounds like extremely good counsel … but also a gift that’s much better than a box of chocolates for your lover on Valentine’s Day.