It’s gift season. Christmas was in December; Katie’s birthday is in January, and now Valentine’s Day is here. Yes, I’ll get Katie a gift for Valentine’s Day (we always do something small for each other), but this year I’ve been thinking more about the purpose of this holiday. And I need it to mean something other than consumerism.
It’s been a crazy year for us, and we’ve found ourselves lamenting that our relationship has, at times, taken a back seat to the other priorities in life: kids, finances, Katie’s business, my health. It’s a season through which all relationships go, but to overcome it and get back on track, I’m looking at Valentines Day as a fresh start – a time for a few relational resolutions. In lieu of only a simple gift and a bouquet of flowers, I want to make a few changes.
Here are a few Valentine’s Day resolutions I’m considering this year…
I have three little girls who love to play loudly and argue loudly. It’s also an old house, which means I hear every one of their little footsteps upstairs; oh, and the washer, dryer, and dishwasher are basically always running. So it’s literally hard for me to hear Katie most of the time, especially when we try to talk to each other from different rooms (why the hell do we do that?)
On top of all of that, I’m up at 5:45 everyday for work. Katie owns her own business and gets our girls ready for school in the morning before she heads to work. And at the end of the day, once the girls are in bed, we have nothing left. It’s easier to sit and stare at our phones than to converse and listen to each other. And as an English teacher, I’m great at talking, but listening is an intentional skill that I’ve had to cultivate (and I’m always working on it).
This year, I’m renewing my commitment to actively listening to my wife. I need to ask her more frequently how her day went, how she’s feeling about her business, about our relationship, about her friendships, then listen to the response and ask follow-up questions. Did that make you happy? That sounds like it was really tough, how are you dealing with that? Is there anything I can do to support you more in this?
Then it’s time for me to show her that I’ve listened. Ok, so I hear you saying xyz, is that right? If you can paraphrase back to your partner whatever it is that they just said to you, you can convey to them that what they say (and how they feel) matters.
Recently we had a birthday party for our youngest, and we were chatting with one of the moms who brought her daughter over. Making conversation, I asked this mom a few questions about her daughter, but somehow all of her answers managed to come back to herself and what kind of mom she is. While I found this annoying, Katie humored her. She smiled, nodded, and agreed with what the mom was saying.
The next day, I made a point of telling Katie how impressed I am with her ability to meet people where they are socially. While I was getting impatient with the responses to my questions (and apparently I was wearing some of that impatience on my face), Katie realized that what mattered most was for this woman to feel comfortable in our home.
You tell your partner they’re pretty all the time, but the best compliments are the ones we get about who we are. Find those personality traits that make your partner stand out and speak them aloud.
Spend a Few Bucks Randomly
And I mean literally just spend a few bucks every once in a while (not just on holidays). The truth is you shouldn’t need a reason to get a little something for your significant other. The point is to convey I was thinking about you even though it’s just an ordinary Tuesday. Here are a few cheap items that my wife loves, and maybe yours will too.
- Nail file
- $10 Starbucks gift card
- Small bouquet of flowers (Trader Joe’s flowers are awesome and cheap)
- Favorite candybar
- Pack of gel pens
- A new nail polish color
- A gallon of washer fluid (my wife seemingly goes through a gallon a week)
- Cozy soft socks
- Hair accessories (headband, scarf)
- Face mask (Marshall’s sells these in the cosmetics area for cheap)
Work on Yourself
The truth is that our relationships benefit when we work on ourselves. I’m not saying you have to fix everything about yourself that annoys your partner, but intentional growth is a gift to both of you. This year I’m getting back to a regular exercise routine, and I’m working on keeping a more positive attitude.
There are a few ways to go about this…
- You could ask your partner if there’s something they’d like you to work on. If you go this route, you better be ready to take the feedback without getting defensive.
- You could make the decision and then tell your partner: I’ve noticed it bothers you when I ____________, so this is something I’ve decided I want to work on.
- You could start making the change and just keep it to yourself. And frankly guys, this is the best option.
Maybe you need to listen more, interrupt less, chip in more on the household chores, or be more present with the kids. If you haven’t exercised in a while, and your partner goes to the gym, start tagging along. If you have emotional hang ups hindering your relationship, go start seeing a therapist. The fact is we work on ourselves for our own benefit, but the byproduct of that work is often a healthier relationship.
There’s nothing wrong with picking up that tennis bracelet for Valentine’s Day, but this year, I need the day to be something more than another reason for me to spend money. I’m using this holiday as a reset, a springboard into some healthy habits for my relationship. I’ll let you know next year how it went.