Valentine's Day Wisdom

As soon as the store shelves are cleared of winter holiday merchandise, the seasonal aisle is restocked for Valentine’s Day. Since the beginning of January, hearts and cupids and chocolate and, let’s just say, “more suggestive products” are everywhere. Screaming at you. You can’t escape them. At least that’s what it feels like if you’re single. “Even those who are partnered use Valentine’s Day as a relationship barometer,” says Brittany Burch, LCSW, LCDC. Burch is a staff therapist at Montrose Counseling Center who works with individuals and couples.

Burch says that inherent to the holiday is the glorification of romantic love. If you’re single and don’t want to be alone, that’s what you see. If you’re married or partnered, one of you may be significantly more romantic than the other. One partner may feel smothered while the other feels taken for granted. Expectations may be unspoken, and that may lead to unnecessary confusion and hurt feelings, and there may not be a person who is right and a person who is wrong. That little feeling you get that things have changed might be an indication that you need to do some work on your relationship.

Some people express loneliness even though they are in a relationship because the pair isn’t able to communicate effectively, says Burch. A couples counselor may be able to help, not only by listening to what each partner has to say, but by observing how the couple interacts with one another: their body language, expressions, tone, etc. In many cases, people seek couples counseling when the relationship has come to a fork in the road. Sometimes, a couples counselor prepares both people to separate, and that’s important because staying together to avoid loneliness may result in isolation, pain, and fear. Part of a therapist’s job is identifying whether the couple is at a crossroad or if they have just hit a bump or a hurdle, and how to navigate down a mutually agreeable path. Therapy can create an environment with a third party where the partners may feel more open to discuss their truths. Burch sees her role as facilitating that, and more than anything, she finds herself helping partners really “hear” what’s being said versus talking about what’s wrong in the relationship. “Hearing is a critical part of communication,” she says, and visual clues can sometimes illuminate that. She explains that she may notice that one person is shaking his or her head while the other person is speaking. She’ll ask what that’s about and try to open a conversation about different perspectives of the same truth in an effort to validate both sides.

Burch says that while most people don’t seek couples counseling until the relationship has started to crumble, it’s never too late. And even if you can’t get your partner to come with you to couples counseling, you may benefit from individual counseling. Valentine’s Day is loaded with expectations, but Burch says that it can also be a day where you learn to be your own Valentine — to celebrate yourself and all the people in your life. There is no rule that Valentine’s Day has to be all about romance, and without it, you have to be miserable.