I have an idea, and you may not like it, but stay with me. It’s about Valentine’s Day. I know that Valentine’s Day is a bullshit holiday that causes undue stress and anxiety when you’re first dating, followed by I’m-out-of-ideas type hopelessness in the middle years, and finally resentment or straight apathy once you’ve been together for a long time. It’s useless at best and harmful at worst.
But listen, we’re never going to escape Valentine’s Day because the 18.9 BILLION DOLLAR Valentine industry simply can’t let that happen. The instant the Christmas decorations are struck from store shelves, it’s hearts and doilies and waxy chocolates filled with nuts and nougat. You may not always know the exact day of the week it’s going to fall on, but there are forces in place which make playing dumb completely impossible.
So, what if we were to use the ubiquitous V-day hype as a reminder, of sorts, that it’s time for our Annual Relationship Check-Up. Yes, similar to the way my hypnobirthing instructor invited me to change my notion of “pain” to a gentler word, like “pressure,” I am inviting you to reclaim February 14th from the Hallmark monster to make it a day as simple and routine as your annual car inspection. Not the sexiest analogy, but again, stay with me… I propose a Four-point Checklist to be used on this day for the purposes of evaluating and tuning-up your relationship.
The Four Points are as follows:
1. Strengths: Because we all know the bad stuff rises to the top, that mistakes are what we remember, but things aren’t as messed up as they may feel. Start your relationship eval with the aspects of your partnership that feel right, that spark joy in your heart and maybe even make you proud of who you are together. It’s all there, maybe just under the surface, and once you start digging you might find you’ve got a full-on excavation underway.
2. Weaknesses: Approach this task with as much compassion as you can muster, and then gather a little more. Know that your partner is imperfect, just like you, and most of the stuff that’s driving you crazy in unintentional on his or her part. This is a good practice, albeit a scary one, and making each other aware of what you perceive to be cracks in your relationship is obviously the only way you can even attempt to fix them. As you proceed through this list, remember all the awesome qualities you just discussed. Keep an open mind and a non-accusatory tone. Finally, speak from your point of view - the old “I think/I feel” statements. Laborious, yes, and effective.
3. Ask yourself : ‘Are we routinely spending dedicated time alone together?’: You’ve earned it - a “yes” or “no” question. Except, if the answer is “no,” you’ve got some extra work to do. Decide NOW when you will set aside time to be with each other and nobody else (especially not your kids). If once a week is unattainable right now, agree to once a month. If we’re working with the automobile reference, your time together is essentially a refueling. (And at once a month, you’re getting incredible mileage.)
4. Give a Gimme: This might be the most challenging item on the checklist but it’s also the most immediately gratifying. The idea is that you give your partner something they’ve been wanting - something you’ve known for a while that your someone needed to hear but you’ve been too stubborn to say. This could range from, “yes, I ate the last macaroon and then lied about it,” to “I’ve loved you selfishly for the past three years.” Whatever level you’re shooting for on the “Major Revelation” scale, don’t hold back. Own your shit! Take responsibility and give your partner the break she or he rightfully deserves. Keep in mind, a good partner will recognize your vulnerability in this moment and should not gloat or become angry at your delay in fessing up.
Ideally, the benefits in this exercise are mutual, as the satisfaction you witness will actually be matched by the sense of relief you feel. I recognize that this idea isn’t exactly a middle finger in the face of a traditional Valentine’s Day, but it does take the whole thing out of the commercial realm and into the vastly more substantial emotional world. Roll your eyes or give me your best snarky jab, but then tell me: when is the last time you took a super honest look at the state of your relationship - as a team? It’s not the sort of the thing most of us do unprompted, though it is the sort of thing that can have a lasting positive impact on your life and the life of your family.
February 14th is as good a day as any, and this way you don’t have to set an iCal reminder.