Just when you thought the holidays, with all their pressures and expectations, were finally behind you, another one pops up – Valentine’s Day. As is true with so many holidays, we can easily get caught up in comparing our reality with the cultural fantasy of how it’s “supposed” to be. These kinds of “no win” comparisons can do a lot to undermine our self-esteem. If you’re on your own, Valentine’s Day messages can make it seem as if everyone else is part of a couple, and that’s the only way to be happy. The day can also be a painful reminder of past losses, or it can heighten our awareness of just how far from ideal our present relationships are.
Intimacy comes in all shapes and sizes, and it’s important to remember that support and sustenance can be found in many kinds of relationships, not just the romantic ones. If you aren’t part of a couple, Valentine’s Day could be a good time to remind yourself of the support you do have in your life. Reach out to someone you feel close to, a friend or family member. Reconnect with someone you’ve lost contact with.
Perhaps you are part of a couple, but you’re not feeling especially romantic right now, maybe even quite the contrary. This could be a good time to look at some of the problems, and begin to address them. Often poor communication skills are the source of much resentment and frustration, sparking a vicious circle that can lead to even greater distance and feelings of alienation. Noticing your bad habits, and working on developing more positive ones, can be an important first step in improving your ability to express yourself more effectively.
What are some of the traps you fall into? Do you sometimes call your partner names? (I don’t necessarily mean names like “Dodo!” – but how about “inconsiderate,” or “selfish”?) Perhaps you make generalizations, using words like “always” or “never”? Or maybe you “kitchen-sink” it. That means piling on one complaint after another until the other person feels overwhelmed, and can’t help but become defensive.
Ingrained patterns take time to change, but here are some general guidelines that could be a good place to start.
- Set aside a time to talk about contentious issues when you’re both feeling calm and relaxed.
- Focus on the problem, whatever it may be, and not the other person. Try to imagine that the two of you are tackling this together in a joint effort.
- Pay attention to the nonverbal messages you may be sending. If you’re tapping your foot impatiently, rolling your eyes, and sighing deeply, the other person may feel you’ve already made up your mind about the issue at hand.
- Be as direct as possible. Don’t beat around the bush; clearly say what you’re feeling, thinking and wanting.
- Use “I” statements whenever possible. Rather than making judgments and assigning blame, focus on communicating your feelings about the situation. How different it is to say: “I felt hurt and angry when you cancelled our plans,” as opposed to: “You never do what you say you will!”
- Step back if things start to get heated. Take a walk, breathe deeply, throw cold water on your face. Do whatever you need to do to help yourself calm down before you try to resume the conversation.
- Reflect back to your partner what you’ve heard him or her say. Putting into words the feelings the other person has expressed will show them you’ve really been listening. If you’re not sure you’ve been understood ask your partner to tell you what he or she has heard you say.
- Imagine the issue from your partner’s perspective. Why might he or she be feeling this way? How might your partner’s perceptions be different from your own?
- Finally, don’t get discouraged. It’s important to be realistic about what you can hope to accomplish. Change is a process, and one conversation won’t resolve all of the issues that trouble you.
If you and your significant other would like to explore these issues further, don’t hesitate to call us at the MAP office.