Commentary: Pick an alternative Valentine’s Day narrative


We all know the typical celebration ritual for couples on Valentine’s Day — an exchange of endearing and heartfelt cards; chocolate and flowers; a romantic dinner at a quiet and cozy restaurant, including liberal indulgence in the libation of your choice; and some playful flirtation with the hope of leading to intimacy.

It’s a tried and true sequence through generations that has been mostly fun and satisfying for couples of all ages.

However, as experienced psychologists, we believe there are additional dimensions of intimacy that may be included in celebrating this holiday. In our consulting rooms, we hear from long-term married couples how robotic the sequence may become, as some men go though the motions without much feeling. They think of Valentine’s Day as a “Hallmark holiday” that pressures them to conform to spending too much money without any sense of real meaning. This may lead to their partners not feeling appreciated or cherished.

What we would like to suggest is that there is a rhythm between long-term couples, as they get to know each other’s cognitive-emotional maps, with its own special romantic intimacy.

By this we mean knowing your partner’s typical thinking, preferences and habits so well that you don’t any longer need to think about it. You can anticipate, with a high degree of accuracy, how he or she will react to things you say or do. And you can enjoy the very personal and intimate “knowing” that develops over time, a knowing that may be called on to amplify the standard ways of celebrating a holiday like Valentine’s Day.

You won’t, for example, buy her a box of chocolates when she’s watching her sugar and carb intake. Instead, you will buy her one delicious piece of the truffle you know she enjoys, wrapped in a loving way. Or you may prefer an intimate dinner in the privacy and comfort of your own home, and you will cook for her or bring in something you know is her favorite dish. This personal setting may allow for a deeper connection without the intrusion of others.

For couples that possess this deeper knowledge of each other, there is no need to go through a lock-step ritual on Valentine’s Day — or any other holiday. They may or may not choose to exchange cards or gifts or go out for dinner to celebrate. But if they do, they use their own knowledge of each other to take the intimacy into a more connected mental and emotional realm that is not just focused on the physical. And, of course, this deeper mental and emotional connection makes for a deeper physical connection.

One trap for some couples who’ve been married for a long time is dismissing or undervaluing what holidays like Valentine’s Day mean for their partner. It’s easy to write off the holiday and not realize that your partner still values marking the day with some of the traditional rituals. This is where knowledge of your partner comes into play.

Everyone ideally wants to be known to their core by their partner. They want you to know what matters to them and what doesn’t. They want you to know how they are feeling, with a good map of their thinking and preferences. Because this is one way that demonstrates and confirms your love for them.

STEVEN and DEBORAH HENDLIN are clinical psychologists in Newport Beach.