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Overcoming the Dread and Disappointment of Valentine's Day

by LeslieBeth Wish, Ed.D.

Valentine's Day may have come and gone, but it is never too late to learn about you and love from the holiday. In my research of more than one thousand women about their intimate relationships, the participants' reactions to St. Valentine's Day ranged from elation and romance to dread and disappointment. See if you recognize yourself in these statements from the women.

  1. 1. "I can't wait for this stupid holiday to be over. I keep telling myself it's just another way to sell candy, flowers, and ugly engagement rings. And I don't feel that way just because I'm single."

  2. 2. "My husband is one of those guys who rush out after work on Valentine's Day to grab the cards and flowers that nobody wanted. I can tell he dreads this day as much as I do!"

  3. 3. "My boyfriend gets it just righton Valentine's Day. Instead of giving me grocery store flowers and cards with animals on them, he always surprises me. He's done all kinds of different things like arranging sunset cruises, creating a 'coupon' for a day of shopping with me at my favorite vintage stores, and, most recently, flying my sisters in to be with us. Honestly, being able to see my sisters was the most romantic thing of all. It told me that he really 'got me.' And then I realized-Valentine's Day should be for him, too! Now I make a list throughout the year of things he'd like as gifts."

  4. 4. "My husband and don't celebrate the holiday. It feels too artificial and unnecessary. We make sure to be romantic throughout the year. We just send each other funny, loving, and sexy Valentine's Day cards. And then we make sure to make big deals of our birthdays, anniversary, Mother's Day, and Father's Day."

Which statements sound like you? What thoughts does each quote activate in your mind and heart? If the first two items sound like you, don't worry-you're not alone. The responses of women who did not have happy Valentine's Days tended to fall into two categories: Women who dreaded the holiday, and women who felt disappointed. Here are some explanations and tips to help you learn from your reactions to the holiday.


Reasons for the Holiday Dread

  1. How could a holiday bring out such unpleasant feelings? Well, in the United States, at least, you can't miss the commercial bombardment for St. Valentine's Day. Television ads fill the screen with diamond earrings, bracelets, and engagement rings. Newspapers can fill half a page with ads that twist your mind into convincing you to want another wedding ring so he can tell you he loves you "all over again."

    Most of us don't fall so easily for these marketing tools, yet, these ploys made many of the women in my study feel badly about themselves and their situation. The causes of this unhappiness stemmed from the varying circumstances of being alone on the Valentine's Day.If you are divorced, never-married, or widowed, it is not surprising you dread the holiday.

    If you are a married widow who was happily married, it's easy to fall into the trap of believing you'll never find another match who was as good as your deceased husband.

    The holiday can have a similar effect if you are single for any reason. Even if you are relieved to be divorced, or if you feel good about most other key aspects of your life such as your work or parenting, you still might experience the holiday as a reminder that you don't have a romantic partner.

    And it doesn't do any good to say in the mirror: "Who needs a man, anyway? And I'm perfectly fine, I'm really fine, really, about being alone. Besides, I'm one of those maverick, independent souls who don't fall for those messages that you have to have a guy in your life." Hmm.it sounds like whistling in the dark.

    So, what should you do if are unhappy-or if you barely succeed in suppressing your discontent? Here are some tips that worked for the women in my study. Use the ones that apply to your situation.


    Cure for the Valentine's Day Holiday Dread

    1. Yes, give yourself time to heal from loss such as break ups of long-term relationships, divorce, or death of a spouse or partner.You do need time to heal. But what does that mean, exactly? How much time? What should you do with your time? Everyone's mourning style is different. There is no magic number of months or even years for grief. For widows, grieving can last one to three years. For break ups and divorce, your healing time could be six to eighteen months. But don't fall for the belief that it is wrong to want to man. Wanting a relationship does not mean you are weak. Wanting to love or be loved is a normal part of being an adult.

    Healing works best when you use the time to examine you in depth and with honesty. Seek counseling to face you! The goal is not to allow your fears of another loss to make you postpone intimacy indefinitely. And this goal leads into the next tip.

  2. 2. Don't wall up your heart just because you've been emotionally hurt in your previous relationship. Avoiding men and swearing off men are signs of your lack of emotional bravery. You most likely adopt this viewpoint because you believe you cannot recover. Get brave, face you, and your fears. Counseling can often help you build coping skills, fear management, and renewed belief in you.

    Tell yourself that avoiding men is a self-lie. Some of the dangers include getting rusty in reading men; not learning about your needs, fears, and dislikes; opening the door to a broader pessimism that could compromise your health; and being vulnerable to grabbing the last man out of desperation when life gets too challenging. Don't do what Cookie does in the cartoon below. See how Cookie fools herself after being emotionally hurt in love.
  3. Cookie fools herself after being emotionally hurt in love

  4. 3. Use your unhappiness as a springboard for examining yourself psychologically. Don't brush your dissatisfaction under the rug. Get brave enough to acknowledge your issues and face them.


Reasons for the Holiday Disappointment

If you are unhappy with your spouse or partner, Valentine's Day can intensify your feelings. It's easy to lose sight of the fact that even mutually happy couples have rough times. The trick is to know the difference between a mountain and a mole hill.

One of the women in my study captured these feelings of disappointment when she said: "My husband may have made dinner plans and bought me candy and flowers, but I can tell he was just going through the motions. The spark is gone."

Here are the top suggestions for helping you manage your disappointment in your current relationship.


Cure for the Valentine's Day Holiday Disappointment

  1. 1. As in number three in the above list, use your disappointment to motivate you to examine yourself psychologically. Don't brush your dissatisfaction under the rug. Avoiding speaking up out of fear of rocking the boat in your relationship can sometimes lead to sinking the entire ship. Over time, the power of unexpressed unhappiness can turn into a tidal wave.

    Look at the Cookie cartoon below. Cookie senses that something is wrong in her relationship with Tim, but she is too afraid to speak up.
  2. Cookie senses that something is wrong in her relationship

  3. 2. Make a list of your grievances. Writing things down is a great tool for understanding your circumstances. It helps you clarify your problems. For now, don't worry if the issues seem too small or too insurmountable. Take your time. You don't have to write them all at once.

    After you feel that your list is complete enough, take these steps to create a way to assess your dissatisfaction:

    • - On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 highest, rate each issue according to importance to you.
    • - Mark the ones that you want to address the most. You could start with the most important, the timely issues, or the easier items. It doesn't matter. But pick just one.
    • - Write down what you did in the past to address the situation. For example, did you ignore it? Argue about it? Criticize your partner?
    • - Write down what your approach prompted in your partner. For example, did he argue and yell louder? Did he walk away? Break something? Hit you? Did you ever resolve the issue? If so, how?

    3. "Play it forward" and don't attack. It's best to use smart communication strategies that increase the chance that your partner will listen, and decrease the chance that he will get defensive. Here is a quick guide about effective communication of those "hot potato" topics:

    • - Pick the right place and time to talk to your partner. For example, don't choose a time when he has a big report or project to finish. Also, it's often better to discuss hot topics in public places such as a restaurant. The location reduces the chances of uproars.
    • - Hold hands before you begin your discussion. The contact signals that you feel affection for him, and the touch reduces emotional reactivity in both of you. Tell your partner that you are sorry for the way you handled Issue X. Tell him that you were ineffective, and that you want the two of you to work as a team to come up with a solution that you could revise if necessary.
    • - Tell him that you've learned a new way of understanding each other and working toward a solution. Tell him this method might make both of you uncomfortable, but you learned that it works. Explain that you are going to be talking about Issue X as though you are him. You are not going to use the word "you." Instead, you are going to pretend to "be in his head" and express the feelings and thoughts that you think are in him. Tell him to please just listen while you "try to get being him right." Explain that you will be focusing on how his viewpoint, decision, or family background effects who he is. For example, let's say that your issue is where to go for Thanksgiving. Your explanation might start with something like this-and remember you are talking as him:
    • - "As a kid, we never had the money to celebrate Thanksgiving. Now that we do, I guess I want a chance to create with my family what I never had. So, that's why I always get so upset when we go to your mom's house all the time for the holiday. II just end up feeling lonelier because, before I die, I want to try it with my family."
    • - Ask him to make any corrections.
    • - Switch roles, and have him be you. At the end of the process, a solution organically emerges.

You will probably need to repeat the exercise, but it is a great starting point for building empathy and teamwork.

If you take these suggestions, you might be on your way to a happier Valentine's Day next time.

Dr. LeslieBeth Wish is a nationally recognized psychologist and licensed clinical social worker, specializing in women's issues. To sign up for her blogs, and to learn more about her upcoming books, go to her website, www.lovevictory.com. "The Love Adventures of Almost Smart Cookie" is a collection of 52 Cookie cartoons. Each cartoon contains three tips. It will be available in spring on Amazon. "Smart Relationships" is the research-based, more extensive self-help book, published by New Horizon Press in July.
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