Valentine’s Day is coming up and it brings with it a host of issues for people. For some people, Valentine’s Day reminds them of the relationship they don’t have and there are those who don’t like the pressure of Valentine’s Day.
If you are alone this Valentine’s Day and wish you were in a relationship, make sure you do something good for yourself that is both healthy and legal. I know of a man who is having an Unvalentine’s Party. For him, self care involves being with friends and having fun. If you love flowers, buy them for yourself. Take responsibility for taking care of yourself and not moping around waiting for someone else to do that for you.
If you don’t like the pressure to have to do something for your partner, think about this: Valentine’s Day is just one opportunity to show the person you love how you feel about them. It’s like an anniversary or birthday. It’s on the calendar. Many people who don’t like the forced nature of Valentine’s Day don’t actually do anything special for the one they love on other days either so the “I don’t participate in Valentine’s Day because it’s forced” belief in that case is just a cop out.
I agree that it’s not best if the only day we do something special for the one we love is on Valentine’s Day. It’s not a replacement or catch-all; however, I recommend that you acknowledge the day in some way. A simple card with words from your heart, a walk together, washing his car or a foot massage are a few ways that you can set aside some time to communicate to your partner “I love you.”
One of the biggest contributors to dysfunction in our relationships is pride. Seeing ourselves as better than we really are, thinking we have it all together, lack of willingness to appreciate others’ points of view and approaching life with an adversarial attitude rather than a collaborative one. I recently watched the musical version of “A Miracle on 34th St”. There’s a scene where Santa, while working at Macy’s, tells the shoppers where they can buy the gifts they are looking for. If Macy’s didn’t have it, he told them which store did. This was initially shocking to the shoppers and horrified Mr. Macy. Imagine if we lived in a world where everyone was working together to help one another rather than selfishly trying to hoard all the good for ourselves?
How does this relate to our relationships and enjoying healthier holiday gatherings? Think about the issues you may have with family members or friends. On some level do the issues have something to do with pride? Let’s say I go to someone’s house for dinner. I dread going. I think they are snobbish and all they talk about is their vacations and cars and things. If I step back for a moment and look at what is really going on, who has the problem? Me! I am likely jealous of their beautiful home and the excess money they have to spend on the finer things in life. To make myself feel better I tear them down. A healthy shift would be to celebrate their good fortune with them. The distribution of money is not equal in this world. That is a reality I must accept. I can own feelings of sadness that I don’t have as much as they do, then decide not to let that sadness morph into jealousy. I can keep tabs on my sadness. When it pops up, I again notice it, take a deep breath and accept reality. I can ask myself if I want to let jealousy take over and ruin our relationship. When I am direct with myself and aware of both my emotions and my choices, I tend to make decisions that promote healthy connections.
We don’t always agree with the political views, parenting techniques or life styles of others. Our tendency is to build up walls with people when we don’t see eye to eye with them. This is an adversarial, pride motivated stance. Our job is to notice it. Notice the emotions you feel when you are around certain people. Holiday gatherings provide awesome opportunities for us to exercise this part of us. Are you feeling some version of sadness, anger or fear? Maybe you feel threatened when someone else doesn’t agree with you. There’s space in this world for differing opinions. Accept that people do not have to agree with you. If we let go of our pride that fuels the hatred between philosophies we could perhaps live in peace and acceptance.
I think it stretches us when we are around people who have different views or who challenge our jealous tendencies. So, the next time you encounter your own pride, notice it. Be aware of your emotions and the thoughts around them. Ask yourself if you are benefitting by hanging on to your pride. Does it promote connection or create separation? Take a deep breath. As you exhale, visualize the pride and icky feelings exiting your body and mind. Then inhale deeply and soak in compassion, love and acceptance of others.
Your work in this area is not dependent on others. If no one around you is practicing this, that’s their issue. You are responsible for your actions, attitudes and words.
I frequently work with couples in my private practice. I use powerful and useful techniques to give people the opportunity to create healthier ways of relating to one another. The techniques are useless sometimes. I can have the best information but until a person stops getting defensive in their relationships nothing will change. Defensiveness is a connection destroyer.
Here’s how: You’re in an argument with your partner. She says something to you that triggers your defensiveness. Usually we respond to defensiveness by getting bigger through a louder voice, more intensity, using shaming, blaming and contemptuous words or by avoiding, shutting down, withdrawing literally or figuratively. You respond in your typical defensive way and now connection is lost. You are not talking to each other productively, you are not thinking about how you can love and honor your partner. You are likely thinking of all the parts you don’t like about this person and perhaps even reasons you shouldn’t be together. The focus is squarely on what’s wrong with her. On the flip side, some of you may even go to the place of ‘what a loser’ you are, continuing the emotional beating triggered by your partner.
The only way to create lasting change is to accept yourself as is. To accept the parts of you that you or someone else may label ‘not good enough’ in some capacity. The parts that get triggered and manifest the hurt through being defensive. In my studies of the Bible, I found an understanding of God as the deepest lover of my very being. God lets us know that He loves us unconditionally. When we accept that we are loved unconditionally, we can love others more authentically.
Our defensiveness gets in the way of extending grace to those around us. God’s answer: There’s nothing to get defensive about. If God is for us (which He is–He’s for everyone!), and we accept that He is for us (meaning we take His love, grace, mercy and forgiveness into the very depths of our being and let it soak into our tattered heart, healing all the broken bits) then we don’t need to let anyone or anything that is against us have a true effect on us.
It might look like this:
Your partner starts in on you about leaving your dirty dishes on the counter. You notice you are feeling defensive and moving toward shutting down. Perhaps retaliation or defend-and-explain words are forming in your mind. At this point say, “STOP!” to yourself. Take a deep breath and remind yourself that you are not condemned, you are forgiven, you are loved, you are free to make mistakes and acknowledge them, rather than defend yourself against condemnation. You respond, “I was starting to feel defensive about that, and then I remembered I don’t need to defend myself. I’m sorry I left my dirty dishes on the counter. I know it’s important to clean up after myself and I forgot.” Generally when we don’t have anything to prove we are more likely to do the things that demonstrate our love for another person. In this case (which is an example I gave from my own life in Relationship Daggers ), not creating more work for her.
Want to destroy your relationships? Dr. John Gottman identified four daggers (he calls them the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse) that, when frequently used, are sure-fire ways to disintegrate connection in a relationship. Defensiveness, criticism, contempt and stonewalling are all you need to do. For me, each one comes easily. I don’t actually even need to think about them, they just pop right out of my mouth when I am angry, hurt or tired.
How do you avoid using the four daggers? The answer is simple but not easy. Awareness is your first action. Notice what you are thinking and feeling. Next, say the word STOP to keep from sending out a dagger. Now process what you are feeling and thinking by identifying your emotion and the corresponding thoughts. The last piece, choose a productive response which usually involves being vulnerable about how you are feeling.
Example: My husband often leaves dishes on the counter next to the sink. I wonder how they are going to get into the dishwasher all by themselves. It irritates me. I could yell at him and tell him he’s a bleeping idiot (adeptly using two of the four daggers: criticism and contempt). Or,
1) I could notice that I’m thinking he’s stupid and feeling angry.
2) Say STOP before I let daggers fly out of my mouth.
3) Ask myself what’s going on that I’m so angry. I’m angry because it seems at times I’m the only one who puts dishes into the dishwasher. I have asked others to do the same but they don’t. That frustrates me. It seems that I am not appreciated and I’m being used to do others’ work. Does it make sense to me that I would be frustrated, even angry about that? Yes, it does.
4) Is there anything productive and positive I can do about it? Yes, I could tell my husband that I feel unappreciated when he leaves his dishes next to the sink then kindly tell him what I would like is for him to put his dishes in the dishwasher.
There you have it, four actions that will help you avoid using the four daggers and increase the chance of experiencing healthy connection.
Thanks to Dr. Henry Cloud’s post today on “The Daily Dr. Cloud” for my inspiration.