On February 14, should you write a love letter to your sweetheart – and to your kids? Yes! Romantic gifts that cost big bucks aren't the only way to show how much you care.
To get other ideas, Family Goes Strong talked with clinical psychologist Wendy Walsh, author of The 30-Day Love Detox (Rodale, April 2013), an expert at DatingAdvice.com, a lecturer at California State University, and host of Investigation Discovery's "Happily Never After." Excerpts:
Even happy couples often dread Valentine's Day. How should we celebrate it?
We all know it's a Hallmark holiday. [But] there are lots of other things we make ceremony about. Why do we have New Year's Eve? It's OK once in a while to have a ceremony for no reason other than to honor romantic love. It's a reminder to long-term romantic couples of why they loved that partner. It can be a little bit of chocolate, or a few flowers. It can be putting on a dress for dinner instead of a sweat suit. Write them a love letter.
What should be in the note?
Say why you fell in love with them and still love them. Gratitude is something that has been shown to improve people's mood. Count your blessings in your marriage.
What about people who aren't in a romantic relationship?
I am a [50-year-old] single mother in a committed relationship with both my children! It's about celebrating love, not necessarily about celebrating romantic love.
What about singles who are empty nesters?
If you are single and alone on Valentine's Day, and there isn't someone you love to get together with, this is the time to honor yourself with great self-care. Treat yourself to a great spa treatment. This is the time to remind yourself about how lovable you are by giving love to yourself. Then you become more attractive to everybody else. Loving yourself means accepting your own flaws. Nobody's getting out of here without a few dings and dents.
People often feel they need to go out to dinner or buy romantic gifts on Valentine's Day. Not necessary?
Someone is trying to sell you on the notion that on this one particular day, if you're not buying their products and going to a restaurant, you're a loser. I would say you're being tricked, and you're being manipulated. This would be a day to honor yourself. Or give back to somebody else in need – whether it's an elderly person, whether you do some volunteerism. There are lots of ways to give back and remind yourself how lovable you are. It doesn't have to be canned in this very narrow definition of this romantic, sexual love.
What mistakes do couples often make in their relationships?
Become secure with yourself – about what's right for you and your partner. It's OK to just have a deep friendship, a loving commitment, and sex when it works for you guys. I love statistics. The average couple has sex about five times a month, and that includes young, hot honeymooners! Love is an exchange of care. Sometimes love is just being a great provider, a great protector, a great cook. I think we get caught up in, "My partner's not having sex with me enough. He must not love me. I must not be attractive." Is that about him, or about you starting to feel older and less attractive? Validation for ourselves should come from within ourselves.
What can parents do with their children on Valentine's Day?
Remind your kids how much you love them and what great kids they are. It's a holiday to celebrate love. I do it with my children [ages 9 and 14]. I decorate the table with red napkins. I put a rose on their plate and a chocolate.
What else should midlife couples think about as Valentine's Day approaches?
There's a new study out showing that people tend to have the most dissatisfaction in the early years of their relationship. Couples report the most happiness when they have an empty nest. Now they can get their wife back, they can get their husband back, they can go play, they can downsize their house, and they can travel and not worry about the school schedules.
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