By Dr. Harriet Lerner, Author of Marriage Rules: A Manual for the Married and the Coupled Up
Valentine’s Day is the holiday for romance and romantic gestures. Why not take advantage of this day dedicated to love to improve your marriage? With a few simple switch-ups, you can put some practices in place that will improve your marriage– for Valentine’s Day and beyond!
5 Marriage Secrets for Valentine’s Day
1. Pick Three Things to Warm His Heart
Celebrate Valentines Day by practicing kindness and generosity, even if your partner is behaving badly. Do the little things that make him or her feel loved, valued, and chosen. Remember that you can communicate interest, generosity and love in nonverbal ways, as well as with words and language. A simple gesture—a hand on a back, a nod, a smile—can make your partner feel seen and cared for.
No matter how distant your marriage has become, and no matter how dense you claim to be about relationships, come up with three specific actions you can take to make your partner feel loved and respected on Valentines Day. No expert in the universe knows what warms your partner’s heart the way you do. It’s deciding in advance what your three things are –and doing them–that’s the hard part.
2. Give Him a Break–Tell him What You Want
Your partner may be about to blow off Valentines Day –and it‘s important to you to celebrate. Don’t wait until he forgets, as if you’re giving him a test that you’re waiting for him to fail. Give the poor guy a break and remind him a week in advance. Tell him what you want, even though you think he should know. (“I want you to make a reservation at our favorite Italian restaurant, and I want a Valentines Day card. And don’t forget—I hate flowers!”) Don’t count on him to have learned from his mistakes from last year.
3. Call off the Chase
If you’re married to a distancer, Valentines Day is a good time to call off the chase. Don’t use this special day to “process” your relationship and talk about how the two of you never talk. Instead, just talk.
Don’t pursue him. Valentines Day is not the time to bring up your partner’s lack of warmth, interest, and attentiveness, or to compare him unfavorably with your best friend’s romantic husband. If, say, you go to a movie and you’re upset that he doesn’t hold your hand or seem to acknowledge your presence, let it go. When you leave the theater, just talk about the movie. Surprise him with praise, just when he imagines you’re going to hit him with criticism.
4. Overcome Your L.D.D. (Listening Deficit Disorder)
Listening without defensiveness is the ultimate spiritual act and the most precious Valentine’s gift that we can give our partner. Decide in advance that on this special day you will enter every conversation with the goal of asking questions and listening only to understand. This means that you don’t interrupt, argue, defend yourself, correct his exaggerations or distortions, or bring up grievances of your own. Save your defense for a future conversation on another day.
Forget about being right. Try to catch yourself when your focus on being right blocks you from working toward a common purpose—having a great Valentines Day together!
5. Get More Bite Marks on Your Tongue
You know what irritates your partner so don’t do it on February 14th. Dial down the criticism. Get out of debate mode, worry-mode, or advice-giving mode. Put nagging aside and don’t bring up the to-do list. Do I really need to tell you that a Valentines dinner isn’t the time to figure out a more equitable sharing of household chores?
If you’ve paired up with a distancer, he or she may be allergic to the sheer number of sentences or the intensity in your voice. So, if you do have a legitimate complaint, slow down your speech, lower the volume and say it shorter. You may need to fake it for the evening or engage in a bit of creative pretending. The goal is not to put a patina of false brightness on real problems, but rather to experiment with bold new behaviors. Valentines Day is the perfect time to try on a “new you”!
A Postscript: Follow these five rules on February 14th. Then try to live them as a daily practice. Making this effort will lay the foundation for dealing with conflict as it arises, and exceeding his threshold of deafness when you need to take a strong position and draw the line.
I promise you this: If you follow these rules much of the time, (even with a large margin of error), you’ll give your marriage the best chance of succeeding. Your relationship thanks you in advance.