Usually on Mondays I post a Reader Question, and then take a stab at answering it.
The vast majority of the questions that come into this blog are a variation on this:
My husband just isn’t affectionate. He doesn’t really pay attention to me. Our marriage is boring. He spends all his time on the computer or on the iPad. We don’t have a relationship. What do I do?
I’ve tried to answer these in various ways, like how to create a friendship with your husband, or how to live in a loveless marriage, and more.
But I know that this time of year these feelings often pop up again. And so when my friend Cheri Gregory told me about a post she wanted to write on avoiding the Valentine’s Day Blues, I knew it would resonate with a lot of women who wonder why their husbands don’t seem to show any love.
Soon it will be Valentine’s Day.
A.K.A. My Husband Disappointed Me Yet Again Day.
Followed by Punish Him for His Failures Week.
Well, at least that’s how I viewed February 14 during the early years of my marriage. I had so many Hallmark-instilled expectations for what The Day should be like and would be like, if only my husband could…
• read my mind and do exactly what I hoped he would do without me telling him what I wanted…
• manufacture time and energy to execute elaborate plans on an arbitrary day…
• cave into societal pressure and become someone quite different from his everyday self once a year…
I was dismal with disappointment after our first few Valentine’s Days because “we” didn’t celebrate the way I thought we should. Thank heavens Pinterest and Facebook didn’t exist back then! Comparing what I lacked to what other women so clearly had would have compounded my self-inflicted misery.
What Do I Really Want out of Valentine’s Day?
Early on, I had clear expectations of what I thought my husband should do on Valentine’s Day. But I failed to do two vital things:
1) I didn’t tell him, well in advance, my hopes for Valentine’s day.
I bought in to the immature belief that “If he really loved me, he would just know what I want.” Assuming that he already knew, I became upset when he withheld from me what I needed.
The actual truth, of course, was that he had no idea what was going on inside my head. He expected me to be honest with him, to tell him what I wanted.
2) I didn’t realize what I really wanted.
I thought I wanted flowers, a card, and a romantic evening together.
But I didn’t.
What I really wanted was to feel the way I imagined these things would make me feel. This meant that I typically ignored my husband’s best efforts and judged his “success” based on my oh-so-fickle feelings.
Expectations Kill Love
Patty Newbold’s blog Assume Love has been a major perspective-shifter for me. I keep these two quotes taped on my mirror:
• “Expectations, other than the one you were promised–that you will be loved–are premeditated resentments.”
• “Resentment is a marriage killer, and it grows from unmet expectations.”
I finally realized that I had a choice:
I could get caught up in commercialized expectations for February 14, developing such a judgmental attitude toward my husband that I displayed disrespectful behaviors.
I could choose to recognize February 14 as just another day, no more or less important than February 13 or February 15. Certainly no reason to justify negative beliefs or behaviors.
Today, I’m grateful for a long-term perspective on my expectations. Twenty-five uneventful Valentine’s Days pale in comparison to almost 10,000 days of doing life together. Letting go of my expectations for this one arbitrary commercialized holiday has freed me to enjoy our camaraderie and romance whenever they occur.
Am I suggesting that we all completely ignore February 14? Not at all. In fact, letting go of my expectations has allowed me to enjoy finding ways to celebrate Valentine’s Day that worked for us, for that particular year.
Here are a few; perhaps you’ll find an idea you can adapt to your marriage.
1. Dialogue about this year’s Valentine’s Day
Pull out a calendar, sit down with your husband, and ask some key questions:
• What would I like to do?
• What would you like to do?
• What’s in the budget?
• What’s reasonable considering our season of life?
• What’s happening the week before and the weekend after?
• How much time and energy are we each likely to have on February 14?
Whenever we have a simple conversation well in advance, I stay grounded in reality rather than getting lost in my own fantastical expectations. It also means that we’re working together as a team, keeping the pressure off of either one of us to “produce” some amazing extravaganza.
2. Declare your own “Valentine’s Day.”
Call me dense, but it took me years to figure out that we could celebrate on a different day. Restaurants aren’t nearly as full on February 13 or 15. Or 25, for that matter. Sometimes, we plan ahead for our private Valentine’s Day celebration. Other times, we simply find ourselves in the midst of celebrating our marriage. Like last week, when we spontaneously went grocery shopping together and then stopped at our favorite Mediterranean restaurant for dinner. Between bites of dolma, I looked across the table at Daniel and said, “Happy Valentine’s Day!”
So, for us, Valentine’s Day 2014 was January 30.
You don’t have to force February 14 to be The Day. During the upcoming weeks, you can be alert to a natural together time, and declare it your very own Valentine’s Day.
3. Devote Yourself to Celebration (not Competition)
I used to approach Valentine’s Day as a competition without telling my husband I was keeping score.
I got all this for him; I wonder how much he got for me.
My friend’s husband has this elaborate plan for her; why doesn’t my husband ever do anything like that for me?
Year in and year out I’m the only one who even tries.
We both ended up feeling like losers–on a day devoted to declaring love victorious!
Finally, I quit thinking about what he would get for me or what I would get for him. Instead, I started thinking about what we could do for our marriage.
Sheila put out a great list of “Valentine’s Day Gifts for Your Husband” last week. I’d like to challenge you to approach the list as “Valentine’s Day Gifts for Our Marriage”.
Make this the year that you don’t focus on what your husband does (or doesn’t) do for you. Focus, instead, on making the week of Valentine’s Day “Celebrating Our Marriage by Loving My Man Week.” Don’t make the mistakes I did as an earlywed, wallowing in all the coulds, woulds, and shoulds. Life’s too short to waste on the nauseating roller coaster of expectations and disappointment. Celebrate what you do have and who you are as a couple.
Cheri Gregory is a Certified Personality Trainer; contributor/co-author of a dozen books, including Wired That Way and 21 Ways to Connect With Your Kids (with Kathi Lipp); and frequent speaker for MOPS groups, women’s retreats, parent workshops, and educational seminars. She holds an M.A. in Leadership and is working on her PhD. Cheri has been “wife of my youth” to Daniel, a pastor, for over a quarter-of-a-century; they have two college-aged kids. She blogs about expectations, “baditude”, and hope at www.CheriGregory.com