“Behind every happy couple lies two people who have fought hard to overcome all obstacles and interferences to be that way. Why? Because it’s what they wanted.” –Kim George
I will never forget when the founder of Ashley Madison (former discreet affairs dating site), Noel Biderman, once told me that the biggest day of their year was the day after Valentine’s Day. More women signed up to cheat on their marriages on this day than any other - which is no small thing coming from a guy whose website used to generate $25,000 an hour of the average day. Understanding why this Valentine’s effect is so potent and inspires so many breakups is helpful in preparing for this day – and can actually set you up to rekindle your love life instead.
This love holiday is so culturally commercialized – collectively, we spend about $18 billion a year on the occasion – and shines such a sharp light on our expectations of our intimate relationships that it practically guarantees an experience of disappointment and frustration with our lovers.
Mind you, it’s not like Valentine’s Day alone creates these feelings (often they are percolating for months, or even years), but it is not uncommon for cultural celebrations of love (Christmas and Mother’s Day are not far behind) to clarify, and maybe even exaggerate, what is broken between us.
Many might argue that the “Hallmarked” and arguably unrealistic expectations for a single day to capture what needs to be done all the time doesn’t help. But the truth is that we all long for a gesture – a perfect gift or carefully penned card – to heal the rifts that live between us; for all the many ways our daily acts of love go unrecognized, underappreciated, unrecognized, or worse still, unreciprocated.
But there is a cure for these Valentine's Day debacles, and starting now might be a way that you could plan ahead with your partner to make it a day of healing instead of strife. Ponder and discuss any of the following three cures and I guarantee that it will rekindle your love well beyond Valentine's Day and lead to a more sustainable relationship.
1. Stop Comparing Love with Falling in Love
This is the most deadly of all the misperceptions that we bring to our relationships. On a certain level, it is understandable that we malign the long-term work of loving someone after we experience the euphoric stage of falling in love. Anyone who has walked through the magical and mysterious wonderland induced by biochemically-balanced hormonal attractions will be convinced that they have found the real thing. There is nothing better than the immediacy and profound connection of perfectly matched lovers in their early discovery of each other. There is no drug that can induce that kind of lasting feeling of well being that comes from feeling deeply lovable and loving.
As this space inevitably fades to the reality of learning to love, we are confused – forlorn that we have to wrestle with the other aspects of love which can feel a lot more like work than the heightened and extrasensory moments when we fall. The problem is that we are continuously comparing these two places and striving to get back to the euphoric “in love” place, rather than being willing to dive into the heavy lifting of accepting the love that is present.
Try giving up the longing for what's in the past. This will free up a lot of energy to accomplish the loving work of both giving and receiving.
2. Learn to Hold What is Lovable and Annoying Together
We have this weird split personality about what we like and what we don’t. Embracing the ancient Eastern view that both dark and light live simultaneously inside of us helps us learn the mature skill of love. This recognition allows us to discover how our greatest strengths are also our greatest weaknesses, and this is as true for you as it is for your partner. This should help to put into perspective how the parts of us that were once so attractive can also be, at times, over-the-top annoying.
Thus begins the work of loving. Holding what we like and don’t like side-by-side creates more spaciousness in the relationship, as opposed to fixating on behaviors that we don’t like. It makes our heart bigger and more capable of other more mature forms of love, like compassion and deep listening.
This mature capacity of love creates the space to let other people be who they are and, even more importantly, allows you to see their efforts at loving you more truly.
3. Ask for What You Want
The last misunderstanding about working at love is the erroneous idea that your partner should already know what you want, and that if you have to ask for what you want then it is somehow less worthy than getting it by magic. This is a primary killer of many otherwise potentially healthy sex lives.
It begins by getting stuck in comparing our current sex life to what it was in the early falling-in-love phase. It isn’t that an equal dose of passion is not available deeper into the relationship, it is that the work between you generates the sparks, rather than having them emerge from the biochemical drive to reproduce. Asking for the kind of intimacy you want is courageous and sexy. It gives your partner permission to be sexy in a whole new way.
The best book I ever read about this is by my friend Tammy Nelson, called Getting the Sex You Want: Shed Your Inhibitions and Reach New Heights of Passion Together, and demonstrates the profound trust it takes to know what you want and express it to the person you love. Mirroring back these revelations to each other creates a dynamic and escalating passion that is only available to people who know each other intimately. Asking for what you want emotionally is equally transformative. The relationship grows exponentially because people aren’t parenting each other and expecting the other to fix something.
Learning to say what feels like love to you is the most evolved way of loving yourself and gives your relationship the room to become better than you could have hoped for.
Love is the hardest work we do in a lifetime and rarely does it ever hit the perfect mark. But it does offer us the most gentle teaching and deepest evolution we can hope for of becoming our best self and living a life with meaning. Here’s to your imperfectly, perfect love this Valentine’s Day.