When people think of Valentine’s Day, red hearts and roses often come to mind. But the day can also conjure up fears about commitment and how to celebrate the occasion with your significant other or loved ones.
Here, interpersonal scholars in the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication — including Professor Laura Guerrero, Assistant Professor Liesel Sharabi, Graduate Teaching Associate Callie Graham and Assistant Professor Joris Van Ouytsel — offer some communication advice for Cupid's big day.
Question: Is it true that there are a lot of breakups around Valentine’s Day? And if so, what can people do about this?
Guerrero: Despite being associated with romance, the weeks right before Valentine’s Day are indeed a time when a lot of breakups occur. The expectations associated with Valentine’s Day can make people reassess their relationship and question how committed they really are. Rather than showing commitment they do not feel, sometimes people break up. A fear of commitment can also lead to a breakup. If you are talking to someone and suspect that they aren’t ready for a commitment, a great strategy is to let them know that you feel the same and that you expect Valentine’s Day to be just like any other day. This can take the pressure off and allow a new relationship to develop at its natural pace. Of course, if someone breaks up with you because they do not want to put in much effort on Valentine’s Day, this can be a sign that it is better to move on and find someone who cares enough to put that effort in.
Q: So, if you are committed, how should you celebrate the day with your significant other?
Guerrero: This is a great question. The candy and floral industries — and to a lesser extent, the lingerie and jewelry industries — hope that you will go the traditional route. But the best Valentine’s Day gifts are more personal and unique to the relationship. Planning to do something new that you know your partner has always wanted to try, or going to an event that you know they will love, are ways to make the day more personal. Research shows that doing new and exciting things together also helps relationships grow, keeping them fresh and exciting. The key is to know what your partner likes and to design the time you spend together on Valentine’s Day around that. The same is true for gifts. Find out your partner’s favorite color or type of candy if you are going that route, and add something personal like a handwritten note.
Q: How can I use social media to communicate a commitment to my partner this Valentine’s Day?
Sharabi: What you choose to share on social media can say a lot about your relationship. Some of my own research on Instagram has shown that people who post lots of couple pictures tend to be more committed to their partner. Other studies have shown that people who identify as being in a relationship on social media also tend to report higher levels of commitment. Of course, that doesn’t mean that changing your profile picture or relationship status will suddenly cause you to be more committed, but it does suggest that these behaviors are an important part of relationship maintenance. So, this Valentine’s Day, talk to your partner about making your relationship “social media official,” or try changing your profile picture to a “relfie” (relationship selfie). It’s cheaper than roses and a great way to communicate to your partner that you value the relationship.
Q: Can you go too far in how much affection you show your partner on Valentine’s Day?
Graham: Yes, exaggerated displays of affection can sometimes signal a problem, not only on Valentine’s Day, but at other times as well. This is especially true if these exaggerated displays of affection are due to someone idolizing their partner. Idolizing someone as perfect is not healthy for either person in a relationship. It puts a lot of pressure on someone to be perfect and never make mistakes. And it sets unrealistic expectations. Exaggerated affection in the early stages of a relationship can also be part of a pattern in toxic relationships called “love bombing,” where people lure people in with loving communication, attention and romantic gestures that are over the top. So, love your partner and appreciate them for who they are, but do not idolize or overdo it on Valentine’s Day or any other day.
Q: Should I share the pin code of my phone with my partner?
Van Ouytsel: Whether or not to share the pin code of your phone with your romantic partner is a highly individual choice. Sharing passwords and pin codes can be a matter of convenience. For example, when you ask your partner to take a picture, or when you want to check a text message on your phone while you are driving. It can also be a safety mechanism so that your partner can unlock your phone in case of an emergency. However, in some cases, it can also be potentially associated with abusive behaviors. For example, when your partner wants to check your accounts because they don’t trust you or because they suspect you of cheating. Our research found that in those cases, sharing pin codes and passwords can be risky and can lead to offline and online forms of dating violence. It can be a serious risk factor for abusive relationships. Therefore, it is best to be mindful of those potential risks. Never share your passwords under pressure, and know that it is perfectly healthy and normal to keep your digital life private from your romantic partner.
Q: What about all the singles out there? How does Valentine’s Day affect them?
Guerrero: This is another dark side of Valentine’s Day. If someone has recently broken up with you, or if you are simply single, it can be difficult to deal with a day that celebrates romance. For example, some studies have found that loneliness peaks around holidays, including Valentine’s Day. The younger generation has found some great ways to combat this by making Valentine’s Day a more general celebration of love and friendship, rather than just focusing on romance. Some women get together to celebrate “Galentine’s Day” by having dinner out with friends or just hanging out together to celebrate their friendship. Thinking about the important people in your life and reaching out to them to tell them you appreciate them can brighten their day and help combat any loneliness that Valentine’s Day might bring. And of course, you don’t need to be single to do that!
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