When You Hate Valentine’s Day

Don’t let mismatched expectations put stress on your relationship.


Mismatched expectations on Valentine’s Day cause stress in a relationship. Follow these do’s and don’ts for a happy holiday.

Mismatched expectations on Valentine’s Day cause stress in a relationship. Follow these do’s and don’ts for a happy holiday.

When You Hate Valentine's Day

Love it or hate it, there’s no getting away from the fact that as soon as the peppermint bark disappears from the shelves, we are bombarded with teddy bears clutching balloon bouquets wherever we turn around. The sight of these cute testaments to love can inspire warmth and sentimentality in some of us and disdain and rage in others.  They’re thinking, yet another commercialized holiday dreamt up by marketers to capitalize on our desire to love and be loved.  That being said, the day itself can be a bit of a minefield for couples.

Is this the day I should pop the question, or is that too corny?

Should I buy an expensive gift so my partner feels valued or something simple that speaks from the heart?

Should we go for the creative date or an overpriced restaurant?

What type of Valentine’s Day couple are you?

As a couples therapist, I notice some recurring themes around Valentine’s Day. Maybe you can see yourself in some of these examples…

LOVE/HATE.  One partner loves the holiday, while the other hates it. No one wants to be on either side of this dynamic. Either you’re chronically disappointed or you feel guilty for doing nothing and run out to the gas station at 8 pm on the 14th hoping they still have some carnations. 

ENTHUSIASTIC PARTICIPANTS. Both of you go big for it.  This is an easier dynamic as both partners agree on the significance of the holiday. The downside can be that lots of positive energy goes into Valentine’s Day, shining a light on the scarcity of positive energy and effort toward the relationship for the rest of the year.

“MEH”. Here, both partners agree on the artificial nature of the holiday, find the commercialism off-putting, and either reject or are ambivalent about celebrating.  Maybe one or both get silently disappointed but don’t feel like they can complain or be spoiled a little.

Valentine’s Day expectations

Mismatched and typically unspoken expectations of Valentine’s Day are a source of conflict and hurt feelings for many couples.  Partners can best address these sore spots by sitting down and having intentional conversations about how they each feel cherished, courted, and appreciated by the other.

These conversations can include each partner’s preferred ways of demonstrating and getting affection and of being romanced.  They can be as a matter-of-fact as, “I want you to make a dinner reservation,” or deeper, in the sense that you talk about what’s meaningful to you and why. Couples that have these types of conversations are working on their sense of Shared Meaning, which research supports as a major component in making relationships work well.  And, it may go without saying, but these conversations go better if you have them before you end up in a fight because one or both of you didn’t get your expectations met.

Whether you’re a Valentine’s grinch or take a day off on the 14th to watch Hallmark movies, I believe that the holiday can offer an opportunity for joyful celebration of your emotional connection that can be fun, playful, and meaningful, without necessarily involving heart-shaped candy.

Valentine’s Day do’s

Acknowledge it.  Yeah, the holiday can be corny, and yeah, your partner may not be into it, but let them know you’re thinking about them.

Seize the day. Think of the 14th as an opportunity to turn towards in whatever way you know your partner finds meaningful.

Focus on the positive.  Don’t be the couple that does an exhaustive analysis of their relationship struggles on Valentine’s Day. That can wait until aftewards. Have fun if there’s fun to be had. Give your partner opportunities to come through for you.

Valentine’s Day do not’s

Do nothing and ignore the day. Even if your partner’s not the sentimental type, maybe they feel underappreciated and could use some of your positive affection today. A small gesture is infinitely better than nothing.

Assume once a hater, always a hater. People change over time.  Things that you didn’t want, maybe you want now.  My husband used to hate dark chocolate. Now he likes it. That’s okay. February 14th can be an opportunity for you to update your Love Map of each other and find out if there’s interest in a chocolate heart or two.

Wait ‘till the 14th to find out the ways your partner feels loved and what’s important to them. Fortune favors the brave. If you don’t know, ask today. Keep asking. All year long.

And finally… don’t EVER buy carnations from the gas station!

Happy Valentines Day, with love xoxo

Share, show, and speak your love! Take your relationship off of auto-pilot and shift into loving out loud. In this all-new series of exercises, activities, and videos, Drs. John and Julie Gottman can show you how to love your partner even better. Check out Loving Out Loud and upgrade your relationship today.

Sinead Smyth, LMFT is a Certified Gottman Therapist and Level 3 Trainer in Gottman Method Couples Therapy. Her counseling practice, East Bay Relationship Center, has offices in Pleasanton and Alameda, CA, and works with couples, families, teens, and individuals. You can visit her website here.