How to communicate in a relationship on Valentine's Day
ASU communication experts provide tips
Across the United States and in other places around the world, candy, flowers and gifts are exchanged between loved ones on Feb. 14 — all in the name of St. Valentine.
For some people, Valentine’s Day is an opportunity to express their love for a long-term partner. For others, the day can be fraught with uncertainty about whether or how to communicate one’s feelings.
Mid-February can also be a time to observe all of your close relationships, including friends and family.
Arizona State University Professor Laura K. Guerrero says that some people now celebrate “Galentine’s Day” on Feb. 13. The point, she says, is to spend quality time with people you are close to other than your significant other.
“February can be a time to reflect upon and appreciate all our close relationships,” she says.
Here, Guerrero and other interpersonal communication scholars in Arizona State University's Hugh Downs School of Human Communication — including Assistant Professor Joris Van Ouytsel, Assistant Professor Liesel Sharabi and Instructor Chantel Solomon — offer some communication advice for Cupid's big day.
Note: Answers have been edited for length and clarity.
Question: Say someone recently started seeing another person. It's going great so far, but things are just getting started and they're afraid that Valentine's Day will be awkward. What should the person do?
Guerrero: Some people avoid starting things with someone before Valentine's Day for this reason. Others break up or stop seeing a potential love interest because they do not want to invest in doing all the Valentine's Day work if they are not committed to staying together or getting more serious. So, it's no wonder that (the person is) worried things could get awkward. One way to handle this is to simply let your partner know that you realize you are not an official couple yet and that you don't expect anything special for Valentine's Day. Bringing it up casually can be a good approach.
For example, you could say something like, "Let's not make a big deal out of Valentine's Day. We're not a couple yet, but who knows, maybe next year we will be." Or, "We are still seeing where this thing between us goes, so let's not worry about doing something on Valentine's Day." This can take the pressure off the situation, while still letting the person know that you see the potential for something more serious in the future. Sometimes, it can also trigger a conversation about where your new relationship is heading. You should be open to having that conversation or accept that the time for such a conversation is later and that it should be prompted by something other than Valentine's Day.
Q: What is something you can do for Valentine’s Day in a newish romantic entanglement that won’t send the wrong message about your future?
Solomon: This is such a fun stage of relational development; you probably are feeling excited when their name pops up with a new text, you randomly think about them and smile or laugh and you can't wait to see them again. ... For Valentine’s Day, you want to keep things fun ... and casual without sending the wrong message. For example, you could hike up “A” Mountain. It's gorgeous in Tempe right now; get outside and enjoy it. This allows you to have quality time and a fun conversation with no disruptions other than trying to catch your breath while hiking.
Van Ouytsel: At this stage of a relationship it’s usually best to be low-key and engage in the type of nice gesture that you might do any other day of the year. For example, you could bring them their favorite type of coffee or cookie if you meet up for something casual. Stay away from gifts that scream love and romance, such as roses, chocolates in a heart-shaped box or jewelry, and keep it simple but personal.
Q: What if you are celebrating Valentine’s Day with someone you met online? How can you make sure the first date goes smoothly?
Sharabi: I think one of the easiest things you can do is adjust your expectations. When you’re getting to know someone online, letting your imagination run wild can be tempting. But if you do that, you could end up passing on someone great if they don’t end up being exactly what you pictured in your head. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be excited about someone, but it’s also important to be realistic so that you don’t wind up disappointed. This is especially likely if you wait too long to meet someone in person. Also, when you’re setting up the first date, don’t be afraid to get creative. For some people, the traditional coffee date can feel too much like an interview. Try a cooking class, a trivia night or some other activity you like to do in your free time. This will help your partner get to know you better and give you something to talk about that you enjoy.
Q: Should people post a "couples photo" as their social media profile picture this Valentine’s Day?
Van Ouytsel: The choice to include your partner in your profile picture is highly personal. According to research literature, individuals who choose a picture with their partner as their profile picture tend to score higher in relationship satisfaction, on average. It can help to make partners feel more connected and committed to the relationship. Additionally, this can aid in creating a sense of unity, as you are presenting yourselves as a couple to friends and family. However, make sure that your partner consents to being included in your profile picture, and the act of including your partner has to be voluntary and without the expectation that they do the same.
Sharabi: Some of my research on Instagram has shown that posting a lot of couple pictures is related to being more committed to each other. Changing your profile picture to a “relfie” (relationship selfie) is cheaper than roses and a great way to communicate to your partner that you value the relationship.
Q: How do you keep the romance alive in a long-term committed relationship on Valentine's Day, as well as the rest of the year?
Guerrero: If you are in a long-term relationship, Valentine's Day is a great time to celebrate your relationship. Rather than going for the traditional dinner out and giving flowers or chocolate, come up with something fun to do together that reflects your relationship and your love. It might be as simple as watching a movie you saw together when you were dating, cooking a meal together that reminds you of a place you once visited, or looking through old photos together and reliving cherished memories.
To keep the romance alive for the rest of the year, think of every day as Valentine's Day in terms of appreciating what you share. But also maintain some independence. Research has shown it can be problematic if couples become so immersed in each other that they stop pursuing personal interests and spend less time with friends. Having interests outside of your relationship keeps it fresh and interesting. It also helps both you and your relationship grow, which can spark romantic feelings. For couples with young children, it is also important to carve out a "date night" once in a while, which can be easier said than done but is immensely important. It is also a good idea to put away talk about work, finance, the kids and other concerns while on that date night, and instead focus on having fun and sharing new experiences with each other.
Van Ouytsel: For committed relationships, if you are planning a date, try to come up with something new or something that will bring back good memories. It can be fun to plan the date together. Doing so can help you think of new things you’d both like to try and also remember past fun times together. Committed couples shouldn’t feel like they have to celebrate on Feb. 14 either. For example, you could plan a trip for another weekend and then give each other the tickets or pictures of where you will be going on Valentine’s Day. Be creative and think outside of the box.