Make Valentine’s Day Celebrate Your Marriage Day!

Reader Question of the Week

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.


Valentine's Day DisappointmentHere’s Cheri:

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.

or

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.

Celebrating “Us”

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.

Win-win.

Valentine's Day Gifts for Your HusbandSheila 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.

P.S. If you’re concerned that I’m letting husbands “off the hook,” I highly recommend Sheila’s “My Husband Needs to Change
and Patty Newbold’s “When Love Goes Missing“.

Cheri GregoryCheri 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

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Comments

  1. It always amazes me when I read these questions you get {and the many I receive and the many women I have mentored, also}. The women are always saying negative things about their husbands…he does this, he doesn’t do this. I believe the largest problem most women have is they put all the blame on their husbands and forget to look at themselves. Do they have a gentle and quiet spirit? Are they learning what pleases their husbands? Are they submissive? etc. I think when we learn to stop pointing our fingers at our husbands and learn to focus on what we need to improve upon, marriages usually get much better.
    Lori Alexander recently posted…Our Disposable SocietyMy Profile

    • Lori — I had to laugh (sadly) at the phrase “gentle and quiet spirit.” So much of my self-inflicted misery in our first decade of marriage was due to my demanding and condescending spirit. Of course, I didn’t see it that way at all. I was just looking out for my rights! Looking back, I see how immature I was and how desperately I needed mentoring and guidance.

      When I started taking responsibility for myself, I had far less time to point fingers of blame. And the more grateful I became for what I do have in my marriage, the better perspective I had on everything else.
      Cheri Gregory recently posted…Make Valentine’s Day Celebrate Your Marriage Day!My Profile

  2. These are really great tips! I love the one about telling him in advance what you want. So simple, but helps so much!
    Lindsey Bell recently posted…A Busy Mom’s Guide to Finding Quiet Time with God-Blog Tour, Day 2My Profile

  3. We’ve started really talking ahead of time about expectations for holidays – not just Valentines, but Christmas, Easter, thanksgiving, birthdays, vacations….
    Actually saying “I hope this happens but I really feel strongly that this other thing shouldn’t” makes for a much better day when the time comes. (Of course the conversation has to happen a few weeks ahead, or it’s too late!)

    We don’t do much for Valentines – having just had Christmas, our anniversary, and my birthday, we’re a bit “done” with celebrating and gifts. So I bake a cake with heart shaped sprinkles, he buys me chocolate from an outlet store (often with Christmas themed wrappers, since it’s reduced this time of year) and we call it enough. :)

    • Emily — I love your added “…I really feel strongly that this other thing shouldn’t” idea! I’ve wasted too much time and energy dreading that a certain thing might happen and then becoming upset when it did.

      Great point that Valentine’s Day comes so quickly on the heels of Christmas (and in our case, my husband’s birthday!) Another good reason to focus on the relationship and not fret about gifts, etc.
      Cheri Gregory recently posted…Make Valentine’s Day Celebrate Your Marriage Day!My Profile

  4. One year my hubby totally went overboard and bought me flowers, chocolates, we had dinner at a fancy restaurant etc. I learned that isn’t what I want.
    My hubby and I discussed valentines day over the weekend while we were doing our budget for the next 2 weeks and I am super excited! I am doing the 14 days of valentines for my hubby, which is a small gift each day with a card that goes with it (a mounds bar and a note that says: I have mounds of fun with you. A bananna with a note: I’m bananas over you. Etc.). I also get to help my kids make valentines for their classes. My hubby is going shopping with me for a new pair of jeans for my gift. And he told me he found an awesome card for me.
    I’m really excited to go shopping for my jeans and see the card he found.

    • That sounds lovely! I think making it meet your own lifestyle and budget and getting a little creative is much more fun!

    • Carrie — Bravo for your honesty! Isn’t it crazy what can happen when we get what we thought we wanted? About ten years ago, my husband started doing some things I had been certain would make all the difference in our marriage if only… Learned, the hard way, that the stories I tell myself aren’t always true!

      LOVE how do-able and celebratory your VDay plans sound! Now you’ve got me thinking about what I could do each day… ;-)
      Cheri Gregory recently posted…Make Valentine’s Day Celebrate Your Marriage Day!My Profile

      • Thank you. Doing something everyday is fun! But I suggest you keep it simple, if you go to pinterest for ideas do not try printing out all the free printables. They never seem to work right. Im using a new piece of construction paper each day and just writing on it.

  5. You are so right: expectations are a marriage killer. I am married to a man who resents giving presents, in fact pretty much refuses to do presents because of the heavy expectations. When he has bought me presents, I am excited, but the “joy” is very transient. It is so true that we want to feel the way the ads and stories make us feel like we SHOULD feel; gorgeous, loved, skinny, and adored by our husbands. No present can do that for us.
    I love the idea of spending the time around Valentines celebrating our marriage. Any time is a good time to stop taking our husbands for granted and find a way to show appreciation and respect, instead of disappointment and resentment.
    Thank you Cheri.
    Now, to find a way to deal with the birthday expectations. . .

    • Heya Heather —

      Totally “get” being married to a man who doesn’t do gifts. (I wrote a blog post about it a couple of years ago…sure get flak for it, but I stand by it! http://www.cherigregory.com/how-to-fix-a-non-gift-giving-husband/)

      I’m fortunate that my love language is not gifts. I need Words of Affirmation and Quality Time, and Daniel is generous with both.

      As for birthdays, all of us have such inconvenient birthdays that we really don’t make big deal about the exact day: mine is right when grades are due at the end of May, Daniel’s is four days after Christmas, Annemarie’s is the middle of Spring Break, and Jonathon’s is two weeks before Christmas. We do celebrate, just a time when we can really focus and enjoy rather than when it’s one more huge expectation on top of already pressing demands.
      Cheri Gregory recently posted…Make Valentine’s Day Celebrate Your Marriage Day!My Profile

  6. I am reading this post thanks to Cheri Gregory who sent me over from her blog. I am hoping to win and read the Happy Wives Club book this year. It has been on my 2014 reading list since I heard about it. I am trying to be more intentional with my marriage. I need all the help and guidance I can get though, because I wasn’t raised in a home that modeled good behaviors and attitudes towards marriage. I have so much to learn and I’m very thankful for the books that have inspired me and lead me in the right direction. We are in the midst of a seasonal marital storm or phase. I hope to show more love, respect, and honor towards my husband this year.

    This is a wonderful article! My husband and I discussed Valentine’s Day years ago. He is a firefighter so there are years that he works on Valentine’s Day. He worked last year and this year. It’s just a day and it CAN happen any time of the year. We decided that because we don’t like crowds or spending a lot of money, that we would do an at home “special” dinner whenever it fits our schedule. We focus on each other as much as possible with regards to quality time. We also buy Valentine’s Day chocolate and other items as gifts when they go on sale AFTER the holiday. It saves us a bundle! I buy a little extra when the prices are rock-bottom so that I can celebrate our marriage or anniversary throughout the year. I agree with the statement “Resentment is a marriage killer, and it grows from unmet expectations.” Unfortunately, I did this early in our marriage and now my hubby is experiencing the same thing. Our expectations especially when not discussed can put heavy strains on a marriage. Oh by the way . . . I love your Valentine’s Day gift list for husbands. It was awesome! Thank you for sharing! I think I might have blushed a little while reading it. Although, I am not sure why I used to do things like this for my hubby before my daughter was born. I have the “exact” flirty apron that is in your post. I bought it for 75% off one day. Yah baby! I never thought to use it as a way to spice up my relationship. LOL. Hmmmm . . . now I am thinking. Have a blessed day! This post is great reminder for us all.
    Tracey M. recently posted…Christmas With Strategic Shopping: The Twelve Months of Christmas ReviewMy Profile

  7. These are great ideas! I’ll have to admit I’m not a huge fan of Valentine’s Day… I never know what to do for my husband (he doesn’t like roses or chocolate) and I hate fighting all the crowds to go out. :) This year I decided to make it a day to celebrate our marriage (St. Valentine is actually the patron saint of lovers, not those looking for love) and we might end up celebrating it on a different day, since I’m not sure we’ll be together on Valentine’s Day. :) Thanks for sharing!
    Bonnie Way recently posted…Valentine’s Day Ideas for HimMy Profile

  8. Alexandra says:

    Last year, (our first Valentine’s day as a married couple) my husband and I recreated our first date. We ate chimichurri hamburgers with mac n cheese and then watched The (New) Karate Kid. It was wonderful! We decided to make it a tradition. It’s special and just “ours”, no one elses.

  9. I really enjoy flowers, but Valentine flowers are expensive! Instead, hubby and I started a tradition when we were dating: I get flowers on February 15th (and I remind him to go pick some out for me). I still feel special that he chose something that he thought that I would like, and I get something much nicer when Valentine flowers are on sale!

  10. Your advice is spot-on for changing our perspective from competition to cooperation, to celebrating our marriages!

    Cherie, I laughed out loud at the opening lines of your post, as they echo what I’ve said so many times in the past.
    The entire culture/marketing push seems to encourage comparison and envy, that women should set their expectations HIGH, and to be sure to let their husbands know when they have FAILED.

    Glad there are so many like you and Sheila who continue to pull back the curtain on what a truly happy marriage looks like!
    Kim recently posted…Valentine’s Day: 5 tips for a delightful celebrationMy Profile

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