10 Reasons Not to Be a Valentine’s Day Grinch

wallpaper_20100115103718_16542854972It’s that time again — Valentine’s Day. The holiday of romantic love, chocolate hearts, and passionate feelings about whether Valentine’s Day should be celebrated, or banned.

Yes, a dozen red roses, plus dinner, will cost as much as your car payment. And yes, love is as sweet on February 15th and every day after that (and should, indeed, be expressed all year long.)

And it’s true, Valentine’s Day is a red ribbon sales day for Hallmark and Hershey and a host of others who peddle “romance” for profit, creating enough hype and hoopla to turn even the ultra-romantic among us into a Valentine’s Day Grinch.

Still there are those of us who like to make the most of the day. We don’t take it seriously enough to expect something from Tiffany or to assess the depth of our love based on what happens that day. We simply view Valentine’s Day as an opportunity to do something sweet with the special someone we love.

Whether you’re a Valentine’s Day hater, a scoffer, or a romantic like me, consider these reasons to make Valentine’s Day a holiday you won’t want to miss:

1. It feels good to give.

When we give to others, at least two good things happen: we feel closer to the person who’s received our gift and that person feels closer to us.

It doesn’t matter what you give — a cookie, a back rub, a coupon that promises that you’ll help clean out the garage; or better still, your undivided attention.

Generosity is good for your health, your self-esteem, and your marriage. Though I don’t recommend giving with an expectation that your spouse must respond in kind, most often, our generosity is met with gratitude, which is an act of love, as well.

2. There’s no such thing as too much L and A  (Love and affection).

Maybe your everyday life is chock full of hugs and “I LOVE YOUs!” Then again, maybe it’s not.

It’s easy to get caught up in the busyness of everyday life, to let our to-do list grab more than its fair share of our time. To often (and too easily) the sweet, loving 29209363_sgestures and kind words that are so important in marriage go unexpressed.

Sometimes what we express isn’t loving at all.

Valentine’s Day is the perfect time to put some love in the bank. Go on. Go a bit over the top.

3. It’s good for your heart. Literally.

Forget the over-priced dinner and the wilting bouquet. One of the best things you can do for your marriage and overall well-being is to hug.

It’s fun. It’s free. And it brings a host of good things. Hugging and hand-holding have been found to release the hormone oxytocin, which reduces blood pressure, boosts your mood, and lowers the levels of stress hormones in your body.

Sounds good to me!

4. Chocolate.

Need I say more?

5. It’s about fun.

Valentine’s Day is not a solemn occasion. Cupids and hearts and chocolates left on your pillow are about whimsy and playfulness. They’re about the light side of love.

Loathe the idea of an over-crowded restaurant with a prix-fixe menu?

Can’t stand dressing up?

There’s no need. Take a walk. Go out for breakfast. Or lunch. Have cookies and milk, or order a pizza.

Maybe just saying, “I love you” will feel like enough.

Whatever you do, don’t have a fight about not living up to some romantic ideal.

6. It’s a good day to start making things better.

It’s a sad fact that some people turn Valentine’s Day into a day of reckoning. Just Google Valentine’s Day and divorce and you’ll see what I mean.

Everyday disappointments about marriage can feel even more disappointing on a day when we imagine everyone else is “in love.”

Rather than mope or bemoan the miserable state of their marriage, rather than feel defeated and just try to get through the day, I’ve know couples to use Valentine’s Day as an occasion to reach out: To talk about wanting to have a deeper connection. To talk about ways to have more kindness and love. To renew their effort to try.

Of course any of us can do this any day of the year. But, as one of my clients said, “What I wanted for Valentine’s Day was a better marriage. I figured this was a perfect day to begin.”

7. It’s a chance for romance.

People have used the occasion of Valentine’s Day to profess love, to propose marriage, to send flowers or a love poem to someone they secretly admire.

Why not let your inner romantic roam free?

8. It’s an opportunity to smile.

This one’s a lot like hugging.

Smiling has a profound effect on the reward centers of the brain: one smile can generate the same degree of pleasurable brain stimulation as 2000 bars of chocolate, without impacting your waistline. (I did not make this up!)

Smiling reduces stress, relaxes us, and even builds trust.

Want a gift that keeps on giving? Smile.

Since smiles are contagious (it’s difficult to frown when someone smiles at you) the benefits you get from your smile will be shared by everyone around you. You may even get a hug in return.

17380463_s9. It’s a day to bring out your crayons.

Or, your paper and pen. Or, your grandmother’s recipe for chocolate fudge hearts.

Write a love poem, a haiku, or a limerick — the more risqué the better.

10. It’s a perfect reminder that love matters.

Ask anyone what they want most with their partner and they’re likely to say that they want to love and be loved.

We all want to be cherished. We want to know that, despite the inevitable ups and downs of marriage, our spouse still wants to be our Valentine.
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Valentine’s Day graphic by Randall Munroe.

How to Become Your Spouse’s Best Friend

girl shares, gives or feeds boy with her ice cream in studio isoEvery day we hear yet another bit of advice about what it takes to have a marriage that lasts. The latest: Find a spouse who can be your best friend.

Seems pretty obvious, doesn’t it?

Kindness, companionship, a special someone to come home to…

For many of us, the friendship we have with our spouse is what we value the most in our relationship. And according to recent research, friendship plays a key role in what makes a good marriage even better.

Mind you, the researchers aren’t saying that you have to start out as best friends. Continue reading

How to Have a Happier Marriage — Without Changing a Thing

imageJanuary 1st. The day of fresh starts and new beginnings. The day we vow to eat more green vegetables, actually use our gym membership, and try, once again, to lose those hard to lose pounds.

As we look to the new year, we often focus on ways to be “better” — resolving to do more of what’s good for us and less of what’s not. To (at least most of the time) come from our best.

For a good many of us, finding ways to have a more satisfying marriage is high on our list.

But in our rush for improvement, we overlook this key fact: Continue reading

36 Things I Know After 36 Years of Marriage

P & W Yosemite 2014IMG_0086 copyNext week, my husband and I will celebrate our 36th anniversary.

Some years we’ve gotten dressed-up and gone out to dinner. Other years we’ve simply marked the day with a kiss.

Once, we were both sick with the flu and I vaguely remember clinking our glasses of orange juice together and then sleeping right through the day.

Then there was the year when we were so embroiled in struggle that we let the day pass without even a word.

That’s what marriage is: richer, poorer, good times and bad. Each year with its surprises and challenges, its hard fought lessons, its moments of sweetness.

To honor our many years together, here are 36 lessons I’ve found most valuable: Continue reading

5 Myths About Marriage That I’m Glad Aren’t True


Ask ten happily married people, “What’s your key to success?” and you’ll get fifteen answers — many of which contradict each other.

Some will say couples should never to go to bed angry. Others will say it’s fine to sleep on your arguments. For them, World War III or not, it’s lights out at 11.

Many will say, “don’t sweat the small stuff,” while an equal number will tout the virtues of talking things out.

Do opposites attract or should we be birds of a feather?

Are we better off lowering our expectations, or setting a high bar?

And do couples really need to be each other’s best friend?

The truth is, many of the widely-dispensed bits of marriage advice are more fiction than fact. Continue reading

10 Daily Choices For Building a Marriage That Lasts

There are a hundred paths through the
world that are easier than loving…
But who needs easier?
— Mary Oliver

Raise your hand if you’ve heard this before:

Marriage is not a noun, it’s a verb.

bricks_and_trowelIt’s hard to dispute, isn’t it?

Anyone who’s been married longer than, say, a week, knows that marriage requires effort. Not back-breaking-drudgery kind of effort, but make-it-count, put-your-heart-into-it effort.

We build a marriage the way we build a house: day by day, brick by brick, from the ground up. Continue reading

The Hot Headed Couple’s Guide to Keeping Your Cool in a Fight

Humbling, isn’t it?couple-arguing

There you are, you and your perfectly otherwise sane spouse arguing, yet again, about…what? The quickest route to the freeway? The proper way to stack dish towels? Whose fault it is that you’re even having an argument? Continue reading