Valentine’s Day is the holiday of love – a day to celebrate your significant others. But for some, it’s not all roses and chocolates. Multiple studies, including one tracking Facebook breakup statuses, have shown that couples are more likely to break up in the weeks before and after Valentine’s Day. So, why does a holiday meant to celebrate relationships result in more break-ups?
Research points to a few reasons:
For many, Valentine’s Day comes with a host of expectations including gifts, special dinners, and romantic locales. Yet setting expectations so high can set us up for disappointment when reality doesn’t match up to these unrealistic hopes. One study found that couples who enter relationships with positive expectations are more likely to face later disappointment and relationship dysfunction than couples who enter with more realistic expectations.
Valentine’s Day plans like dinners, concerts, or events are usually more public – talked about in conversation and even shared on social media. Seeing and hearing about others’ sometimes embellished or idealized accounts of their celebrations makes it difficult to avoid comparing them to our own. These comparisons can lead to dissatisfaction about our own way of celebrating, even if it was perfectly enjoyable and satisfying in the moment.
For relationships that may already be shaky, Valentine’s Day might highlight and even exacerbate existing issues. Valentine’s Day expectations of not just a “perfect” night, but also a “perfect” relationship may make any problems seem worse than they are, causing increased dissatisfaction. Or, the pressure may just intensify negative feelings in an already dysfunctional relationship.
But there’s another huge problem with Valentine’s day: bottling up all of our love for one special day doesn’t allow us to practice the daily things, like gratitude and affirmations, that make relationships thrive. More often than not, partners may use extravagant dinners and gifts as band-aids for chronic relationship issues.
Instead of celebrating relationships only on February 14, we should ideally pay attention to and celebrate our relationships and partners throughout the year.
The importance of this daily attention to relationships and significant others is supported by research from the couples psychologists, John and Julie Gottman. In a famous experiment, the Gottmans observed interactions between 130 newlyweds during a day at a bed and breakfast retreat. They saw that throughout the day, one or both partners would try to make connections with the other – bidding for the other’s attention. In some cases the wife or husband would “turn toward” their significant other and in other cases he or she “turn away.” Those who chose to pay attention to and engage with their significant other and pay attention were more than two times as likely to be together six years later. Through observing these interactions The Gottmans can predict with up to 94 percent certainty whether couples will stay together or break up in the future.
So what’s important isn’t an annual celebration of your love, but rather a more constant attention to and engagement with your partner. Yet, in the crunch of work obligations, family demands, and social commitments it can be easier said than done. So, here are a few tips to make sure you prioritize your relationship not just on February 14, but throughout the year:
1. Date Night: Instead of promising to spend more time together, put a time on the calendar for a special date or even just a night in together. Scheduling a date night will make it more likely that you will follow through and can also make that time together feel more intentional and therefore special.
2. Try new experiences: Breaking routine and trying new things releases oxytocin in the brain. This natural boost can also help make a relationship feel fresh and new.
3. Help: A way to show that you love and care for your partner, especially when schedules get busy is to help your partner – make them dinner on a busy day, put the kids to bed, or take care of some chores that have piled up.
All of this isn’t to say that you shouldn’t celebrate Valentine’s Day at all – but a reminder that we all need to take it a little less seriously. In the end, it’s the smaller, sometimes seemingly insignificant moments, that make a relationship.
Gratitude, affection and hard work every day of the week makes a relationship last – not a box of chocolates once a year.