Valentine’s Day is fast approaching, and very soon millions of Americans will shell out the big bucks to celebrate the holiday with a loved one. According to the National Retail Federation, Americans spent about $18.6 billion for Valentine’s Day. As is tradition, this year men will again spend much more on the holiday than their dates: Last year, the average man spent “$175.61 on jewelry, flowers, a romantic evening out and more,” while women spent just $88.78. With the economy improving and with Valentine’s Day falling on a Friday, Romance could be even more expensive this year.
Although Valentine's Day is all about romance, according to Linda Nusbaum, LMFT, it won't be the time to save a rocky marriage or long term relationship. Linda, a 2-time Emmy Award winning news reporter-turned-therapist, says that Valentine’s Day creates a palpable pressure and too-high expectations for both parties in a relationship. The LA-based licensed relationship counselor adds, Women often feel hopeful and build expectations of what they believe will make them feel loved, and men feel pressure to create an evening, to buy the right gift and make their date happy. But no one really knows the rules, and because expectations are seldom set properly, there are often misunderstandings and devastating disappointments.
Valentine’s Day is just one day: It’s not enough to heal over old rifts. A marriage on the rocks will still be there tomorrow no matter how large the bouquet of roses is or no matter how much money is spent on dinner. The bottom line is: new experiences, like a great Valentine's Day, do not erase the troubles that came before. And comparison is unfair: All Valentine's Days from the past are compared to the one that's coming. It’s very easy to be disappointed when the feeling of newness and adulation decreases over time.
Stop relying on what the media tells us we should buy, wear, eat and drink. Instead, make a big day of recognizing your partner in life by celebrating the small moments you cherish. Talk about what you want from each other and surprise your loved one with an original creation – something really from the heart.
This may not be what we want to hear about Valentine's Day, but as Nusbaum explained to me, a good relationship is possible.
What would you tell couples just starting out in a relationship to keep it strong?
I would tell a new couple that it's OK to be foolish. It's OK to be imperfect, and it's OK to bring your whole self into the relationship. What many couples do is put on their best face and hide the uncomfortable parts. They bond as a couple and then start letting go of the front. This is when the misunderstandings begin. So my best advice is to "Be Yourself," not what you think your partner wants.
What undermines a relationship; not necessarily the big things, but the most common, everyday things?
What undermines a relationship is when couples fail to talk about what isn't working. Most couples in the beginning overlook the little misunderstandings. They say to themselves, "Oh that's not so bad, I can live with that." Couples end up living with so many issues they have not addressed that they eventually see their partner as not the right person. I advise talking about even the smallest discomfort.
As a therapist, how can you tell when a couple is turning around, willing to change, becoming stronger?
I feel hopeful about a couple when they become vulnerable with each other. I often see it in the therapy room. Usually people feel very strongly about an issue. Sometimes one person gains awareness of what has happened to their partner. You can then see a softness occur and you can feel some tenderness. One person now sees the other person differently. This is the beginning of possibilities.
What effect does the age of the individuals have on couple problems?
Sometimes when couples have been together for a while, they have been stuck in a predictable communication pattern. They each know exactly what the other will say. It's as if they are both on automatic. I would say the age of the couple is less important than the years the two have spent in a difficult relationship.
Are you maybe blaming the media for contributing to our unrealistic expectations in relationship?
Our ideas of happily ever after come from somewhere. Our movies and our stories help us shape what we expect in our own relationships. Many couples are expecting to feel happy once they find someone to love. This is fine for a while, but without relationship skills it's hard to spend 20 years in marital bliss.
What are some best practices to keep a relationship good more than just going?
Kindness and acceptance. Measure the words you are speaking. Would you say them to a stranger with the same emotion? Keep yourself kind to the person you love. If you can do that, you will have a good relationship. Now add to that, acceptance of your partner and their right to have their own thoughts, even if you don't agree with them. Acceptance will allow both of you to flourish.
Is it just all about communication?
Communication is vital but it goes deeper than just words. In a relationship, I like to help people become aware of what they are feeling and then help them learn how to express what they want or need. Listening skills are also important, as are “repair skills” after a fight.
What have you learned about yourself and your relationships through your work as a therapist?
I have learned that everyone just wants to feel safe, happy and loved in a relationship, nothing complicated. I experience the simplicity in mine as I help others achieve it.
I have been writing articles about relationships for the last five years. They are free on my blog. I also have a book in publication that is designed to help couples in a simple way. Moreover, I created Couple Mapping to be able to help more people. Here is how it works: I carefully listen to a couple's problems and then, live, I map out where the problems are coming from without making anyone feel to blame.
As a result, Couple Mapping gets to the heart of the problem and in a short time, I’ve found that couples can feel resolution. Couple Mapping is less expensive than a therapy session. Couple Mapping is a visual representation of relationship difficulties that helps the couple see their part, their mate's part and understand at a deeper level the feelings beneath the altercation.
Why is your work important?
I love helping people feel better about their relationships. I feel my life has meaning when I can help people move closer to the person they love; that being in a good relationship is not just the luck of the draw. Anyone can be in a good relationship. Learning skills is something all of us have done all our lives. Relationship skills are available and they make your life better.