Valentine’s Day: Make It Meaningful All YearMental Health
Every Valentine’s Day, we send our beloved ones candy, flowers, or other gifts as a way to say: “I love you.” This once-a-year celebration of romantic love has become one of the biggest holidays of the greeting card industry, second only to Christmas. Last year, friends and lovers exchanged 145 million Valentine’s cards.
But what about the other 364 days of the year? Think of all those missed opportunities to remind someone that you love and cherish them. Valentine’s Day can serve as a helpful reminder of our desire for love and connection.
Psychotherapist David Contos, LCSW, Lee Health Behavioral Health, reminds us that expressing love through thoughtful gifts or sharing enjoyable activities is only one way for us to connect, develop and nurture healthy relationships.
“Valentine’s Day is a wonderful type of mindfulness tool because it reminds us that expressions of love go beyond just using the love language of gifts and expressions,” Contos says. “The feelings of gratitude and joy that Valentine’s Day inspires in us are wonderful, but too often, they’re temporary. They lack the durability to help us navigate the push-and-pull challenges that all healthy relationships have.”
When talking about how to navigate those “push-and-pull challenges,” Contos often cites poet Adrienne Rich, who wrote that an “honorable human relationship” is, ultimately, “a process of refining the truths [we] can tell each other.”
Contos notes this process of mutual “truth-telling” involves self-reflection, safe communication and intentional engagement.
“It takes patience and hard work, no doubt, but it can be some of the most satisfying and fruitful work we do in our relationships.”
In his practice, Contos offers a three-part process to help develop and nurture our intimate relationships: assessment, engagement, and enjoyment:
First, Contos suggests each partner check-in with themselves first. You might ask yourself questions such as:
- What’s been working about this relationship?
- What hasn’t been working so well?
- How do these (good or not-so-good) things make me feel?
- What needs of mine are getting met, and what ones aren’t?
- How might I ask for my/our needs to get met in a safe and respectful way?
“Each partner should write their answers on paper,” Contos advises. “Take a few days and sit with your thoughts. Then, when both of you are ready, take turns sharing your answers. Try and sincerely listen to each other without interrupting or drawing conclusions. Afterward, thank the other person for sharing.”
Contos then suggests another self-reflection exercise immediately after, in which you might ask yourself, “How did it feel to share my writing? How did my partner’s writing make me feel? How do I feel about the needs they mentioned? How do I feel about the ones I mentioned?”
Contos says, “Take turns sharing these, too, honestly and respectfully. Such an assessment can be challenging at times, but if we really listen to this type of feedback, we gain valuable information for ourselves and our relationship.”
“Engaging in activities that involve a mutual sense of purpose and meaning offers an excellent way to grow intimacy,” Contos explains. “People tend to develop a stronger connection with the ones they spend the most time with. Dining out, attending shows and exchanging gifts are exciting ways to engage and show affection. But an activity as simple as doing the dishes or folding laundry together can be just as emotionally nourishing if done with the mindset of mutual service and affection.”
Contos advises us to resist the tendency in our fast-paced culture to rush through our experiences.
“If we slow down and savor each other’s warmth, humor, beauty and presence, it doesn’t matter if we’re touring wine country or peeling potatoes. We are enjoying the present moment together. Doing chores together is a daily opportunity to show affection and deepen intimacy through purposeful engagement.”
This means engaging in activities which lead to joy, delight and just plain fun, Contos says. “Valentine's Day mostly falls in this category, and it can be a great time, but I think we tend to do better when we have something fun to look forward to each day.”
He suggests having a monthly meeting to plan activities and events you and your loved one can do together during the following month.
“These activities don’t have to be long and expensive trips away, either,” he says. “Weekend excursions visiting different towns, or hitting the local beaches and parks can be a great way to spend time together. Other fun things to do might be reading together, painting/creating, bowling, boating or taking a cooking class. The possibilities are endless.”
Contos says your list of things to do will vary according to tastes, but make sure both of you are equally represented on the list. Making a commitment to do something fun together often goes a long way toward creating and maintaining a healthy bond.
Lee Health Behavioral Health
Lee Health Behavioral Health Services strives to address the diverse mental health needs of our community by providing psychiatric services and mental health resources. These include outpatient services for people 18 and older suffering from a variety of psychiatric disorders.
Services include new client evaluation, medication management, and psychotherapeutic evaluation and management.
Want more information? Call 239-343-9180.