As we are all quite aware, Valentine’s Day has developed a negative (and controversial) reputation as an American holiday for its sentimentalism and commercialization. It is an especially sensitive topic in the field of relationship psychology. Despite its reputation, we at The Gottman Institute feel that it’s a great day to do something a little special with your partner, if you do it The Gottman Way! 

Celebrating Valentine’s Day “right” is a source of stress for many couples. A deluge of advertisements pours down on us, beginning weeks before the holiday – many of them creating guilt-avoidance incentives for men to spend as much money as possible on their female partners. All of this marketing has made us feel that we suddenly need to conjure bouquets of roses, diamond rings, and “steak dinner with extra shrimp!” Unfortunately, the media attention grows over time, so that most of us end up feeling under a great deal of pressure by the time February 14th rolls around. 

After much debate and consultation, we have developed “The Gottman Way” for celebrating Valentine’s Day. We believe that the best gift you can give your partner is a happy, healthy, and fulfilling relationship. To help you do so, we have made our wide arrange of products (card decks, books, DVDs, and more) more affordable. Head over to our Facebook page for more information. Instead of dining at the most expensive restaurant in town, cuddle up on the couch with our Love Map and Open Ended Question Card DeckIf you wish to do something special, that’s fine too! Most importantly: relax. This is the first step to enjoying the day. High expectations on Valentine’s Day are a source of conflict in many relationships, so if you wish to celebrate, do it in a way that is comfortable for both you and your partner.

Reserve a table for two at an affordable restaurant, stay in with a much-loved movie and a bottle of wine, spend time asking each other open-ended questions, or do something else with your partner that the two of you can enjoy. Valentine’s Day presents a perfect opportunity to establish a ritual of connection in your relationship. By returning to the same restaurant year after year, or by watching the same movie, you will form a lasting tradition that you look forward to. This tradition will also give you the opportunity to look back on your relationship and reminisce about years past, reminding you of how strong your bond has become.

Visit our Pinterest account for other simple, cheap date ideas. Most of all, remember that Valentine’s Day is not about buying an expensive gift or planning the most extravagant date. These gestures are not only unnecessary, but are also likely to create a great deal of discomfort due to financial expectations. Valentine’s Day should not have you automatically reaching for your pocketbook – it should be a time to celebrate love with your partner. There’s no price tag on that.

With that said, we would like to take this opportunity to remind you that the most important moments in a relationship do not occur on a single day. The real romance comes during the everyday, seemingly insignificant moments. Dr. Gottman speaks about these “sliding door moments” in this clip:

Do you read the Sunday paper together or silently alone? Do you chat while you eat dinner? Romance grows when you know that your partner is having a bad day at work, and you take sixty seconds to leave words of encouragement on their voice mail. It is kept alive when your partner says, “I had the worst nightmare last night,” as you’re heading out the door and you say, “I’m in a big hurry, but tell me all about it tonight,” instead of, “I don’t have time.” Couples who turn toward each other in these moments remain emotionally engaged and stay together. Work on the emotional connection every day, not just this Valentine’s Day, and your relationship will flourish as a result. 

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Valentine’s Day: The Gottman Way
Ellie Lisitsa

Ellie Lisitsa is a staff writer at The Gottman Institute and a regular contributor to The Gottman Relationship Blog. Ellie is pursuing her B.A. in Psychology with an emphasis on Cognitive Dissonance at Reed College in Portland, Oregon.