And so it arrives again! The celebration that people either love to love or love to hate. It doesn’t seem like there are many celebrations that can bring on as many mixed emotions as Valentine’s Day and yet, if you’re in a relationship, there is reason to celebrate it this year. These past 11 months have been really challenging on relationships not only because of all the external stressors and the lack of predictability, but also because of the internal stressors that arise when we spend so much time with one person with very few opportunities for space. What all of this means is that individuals (and therefore couples) are more easily annoyed, irritated and frustrated by things. So what does this have to do with a Hallmark holiday?
John Gottman, a leading relationship researcher, followed newlywed couples and discovered that after 6 years of marriage, the couples who were still married did this one thing 86% of the time, whereas the couples who were divorced only did this 33% of the time. So what is this magical thing that seems to have such a profound impact on relationship longevity? Relationship bids and the art of turning towards. A bid is any attempt from one partner to another for attention, affirmation, affection, or any other positive connection. According to Gottman, we all make bids for connection in our partnership and our ability to turn towards these bids and respond to them makes all the difference. Some of these bids are easy to recognize. For example, asking to go on a date night, initiating sex, sharing a hobby etc. Others are more subtle, like asking for help on something, listening and paying attention to what your partner is saying, showing excitement in your partner’s accomplishments etc. Regardless of the bid, turning towards our partner and allowing connection is one of the greatest relationship tools we can implement.
Back to the connection to Valentine’s Day. I think for many people this day can feel staged and we can struggle finding genuine meaning in a day that can feel forced. I am sure all of us have heard someone say “We should celebrate our relationship every day, not just on February 14th.” I don’t disagree with this sentiment but I think in general, and definitely this past year, we do a kind of crummy job of this. When we are stressed or things feel hard, we don’t make bids as frequently and we are much more likely to miss the bids our partner makes towards us. Unless we are in a new relationship, most of us can take our relationship for granted, or not always invest in it in the ways we know would be beneficial. So this year I recommend you change that. Cheesy or not, commercialized or not, this year, more than most, needs to be the year where we intentionally make bids towards our partner to let them know that despite all the stressors, both internal and external, we are grateful for our relationship and the role it plays in our lives. As you can see from some of the examples above, many of the ways we feel connected don’t require the purchasing of flowers, chocolate or even dinner out. So if that isn’t your thing (or even more so, if that isn’t your partner’s thing). Don’t do it. Connect in the ways you know they like and choose to prioritize your relationship over anything else for the day. I think you’ll also notice how great it feels to feel connected with your partner. Give it a try and then send me an email and let me know how it went. Happy Love Day!