Valentine’s Day can bring up a lot of feelings and opinions: Some folks are apathetic, some are lonely, some find joy and levity in the celebrations, others see it as purely a “Hallmark holiday.” From my experience as a therapist, I see Valentine’s Day as a time that is loaded with potential for hurt and lost connections in relationships — whether you’re celebrating with a partner, friends or family — when expectations aren’t met.
Celebrating this holiday is hugely personal, but typical expectations that people have in their relationships may include buying cards, giving gifts, spending time together, or having romantic and/or sexual experiences. This is a pretty wide variety of expectations, and it can leave a lot of room for negative emotions around fulfilling other’s desires or fears of not having our own expectations met.
In order to avoid hurt feelings and divides in your relationships around Valentine’s Day, it’s important to consider your values, desires, expectations and communication — and you can use this approach year-round for maintaining healthy relationships in your life.
What is most important to you? This may sound like a vague question, but in relationships, it’s important to have a sense of values that you hold — and it can be easier to identify them than you may think.
I like to work with my clients on exploring their values by starting with worksheets like this one. Once you’re able to narrow down your specific values in different areas of your life, it’s easier to start thinking through your desires.
Your desires and expectations
What makes you feel loved? One way to identify your desires is to start noticing moments where you feel the most seen, heard, and connected in your relationships. For example, you may have received a sentimental item from a loved one that made you feel remembered and cared for, and it gave you something to physically hold onto that makes you think of them. Some other examples are sweet notes, someone wanting to spend time with you, or a really great hug.
Once you know your values and desires, you may begin to form expectations or standards around them. When we have higher (and realistic) standards, we actually tend to have better relationships. However, high standards can be a double-edged sword: While they can lend themselves toward better relationships, they can also make us feel let down when our expectations are not met. Allowing for both high expectations of how we are treated and our humanity provides room for conflict and imperfections.
Once we know our values, desires and expectations, we can begin to communicate them to loved ones in our lives.
Communicating in line with your values
In the long run, we tend to feel better when we make decisions in line with our values. Cognitive dissonance, or the experience when our thoughts are inconsistent with our actions, usually makes us uncomfortable and takes up extra energy. And in our relationships, it’s important to honor those values through healthy communication.
Let’s say you want to let someone you’re dating know that you’re not interested in keeping it going, but you don’t want to hurt their feelings or make them feel rejected. This might indicate that kindness and assertiveness are in your well of values. Letting them know you enjoyed getting to know them and your time together, but it’s not the right fit, is a kind and direct way to communicate ending a dating relationship.
Maybe you’re wondering if someone you’ve been seeing is stringing you along. It could be time to politely ask how they would like to proceed. Values that could show up here might include authenticity, respect, or courage. You can let them know you’ve enjoyed your time with them and that you’d like to continue and grow the relationship, but you also understand if they’re not interested in moving forward and would prefer to know so you can proceed accordingly.
Thinking about a loved one’s values, and how they feel most loved, is a simple formula for practicing acts of affection on Valentine’s Day. Do they appreciate beauty and creativity? You could try making them something aesthetically pleasing if gifts are their thing, or maybe take them to an art class if they enjoy quality time together. Incorporating values into an act of service can speak volumes, like preparing a space for a rejuvenating activity if they value self-care and mindfulness. Touch can be catered to many values, like a hand massage using their favorite scent if they value sensuality. And a handwritten note is a wonderful way to affirm a romantic relationship.
While it’s hard to say the best way to communicate every specific value someone might have, these examples are meant to serve as models to help you find ways to show up in your relationships in a way that feels right for you. This is a lifelong practice — the more you communicate in a way you feel good about, the easier it will get. Following our hearts (our values, desires and expectations) allows us to live more authentically, both on our own and within our relationships. Valentine’s Day is a great jumping off point for practicing better communication, and it's a gift that keeps on giving year round!