February 10, 2011

What Would Cupid Do? Valentine’s Day Tips For Couples or Singles

A relationship expert offers ideas for avoiding pitfalls and enjoying the day

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Diana KirschnerDiana Kirschner, PhD, is a psychologist who has helped thousands of singles, couples and families to create love, success and harmony in their lives for more than 25 years. Dr. Kirschner ran the Institute for Comprehensive Family Therapy, a nationally recognized postgraduate center devoted to training psychiatrists, psychologists and therapists all over the world in a unique approach that combined individual, couple and family therapy. As part of that training, she did breakthrough sessions with singles, couples and families who were at an impasse in therapy—showing how to resolve the most difficult relationship, family and work issues in front of large audiences of mental health professionals. Based in New York City, Dr. Kirschner i s a frequent guest psychologist on national talk shows and author of the new relationship advice book, Sealing the Deal: The Love Mentor’s Guide to Lasting Love, as well as the best-selling book Love in 90 Days.

Q: What suggestions do you have for long-term couples to keep the romance in their relationship?

Dr. Kirschner: Research shows that great passion and romance can be present even in couples married over 20 years. So, how do these happily-in-love couples do it? One technique to keep a great romance going is for the spouses/partners to act like they are having an affair with each other. Yes, with each other.

Think about what happens in an extramarital affair - teasing and flirting. The excitement of an affair pivots on gestures that aren’t consummated - the lingering touch, the sweet nibble on the ear, the deep kiss, the suggestive glance that may or may not go any further. There is a playful novelty and uncertainty that drive up dopamine, the falling-in-love brain chemical which, in turn, creates anticipation, excitement and focus on the beloved. Infatuation sizzles. So, get into that same frame of mind with your partner/spouse.

Q: What if any impacts are social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter having on our romantic relationships? Do you have any advice about constructive ways to use them (or not) on Valentine’s Day?

Dr. Kirschner: Social media have definitely impacted our romantic relationships both on the downside and the upside. One downside is that social media can become seriously addictive and time-consuming and can drain attention away from your partner and cut into quality time for couples. If this is the case, one great thing to do on Valentine’s Day is to go cold turkey on the social media and give creative romantic attention to your significant other.

A second downside to social media is that after you break up with someone, news about them may continue to pop up on your Twitter or Facebook feed. Be sure to unfriend your ex on Facebook and untag and remove their photos, and unfollow them on Twitter. In this way, you can avoid being constantly reminded of them and you will move on that much faster.

On the other hand, there are upsides to using social media for finding romance. First, singles have found lost loves and discovered potentially new ones on sites like Facebook. Second, you can create a large and supportive social network. On Valentine’s Day, look through your social media friends to see who might want to celebrate or connect with you. You can put out a message to your friends on Valentine’s Day asking them to help find you a wonderful partner.

Q: Valentine’s Day can be tough on single folks not currently dating or in a relationship. What advice do you have to help these people have a positive experience and not ruminate on being solo?

Dr. Kirschner: There’s little doubt that Valentine’s Day can be tough on singles who are subjected to this culture’s fairy tales about love, rampant commercialism and Hollywood movies. Taken together, these cultural forces have created unrealistic expectations for what’s supposed to happen on this day. Couples are portrayed as so much happier than singles. While it’s true that happily married couples enjoy greater health and happiness than any other group, in many studies the findings show that singles, or at least single women, are just about as happy and healthy as their married counterparts when they have a strong and supportive social network. So, if you are single, try to remember that the grass is not always greener for those who have partners.

Here then are four tips to make your Valentine’s Day memorable and festive:

  1. Get together with friends to celebrate and toast yourselves and all your wonderful qualities and accomplishments.
  2. Throw a party, dinner or get-together, dance, laugh and let each other know how special you are.
  3. Have each of your friends create a gratitude list of 10 things they appreciate about their lives. Take turns reading your lists aloud. Be sure to have some bubbly or sparkling cider on hand to make it festive.
  4. Take in a great movie; go to a comedy show or a play with your posse. In short, put your attention on the loving friends you do have. Have fun and enjoy the love you share with them.


Q: Is there a way for parents to integrate their children into their Valentine’s Day celebration or should the celebration focus on the couple only?

Dr. Kirschner: It is sweet to incorporate the children into some Valentine’s Day ritual, perhaps with special treats or cards. But the real attention, focus and bulk of the time should be about the couple celebrating their romance—without the children. Research shows that couple alone time is a marker for relationship satisfaction and happiness. Seeing the parents go off on their date and being in love gives the children great role models. Get a sitter and enjoy yourselves.

Go out on a date that is not the same old, same old. Try rock-climbing indoors, cross-country skiing, a comedy club or anything to get the blood moving and the dopamine rising. If you can’t leave the house, get a sitter for the children and tell everyone you are not to be disturbed. Rent a sexy movie, dim the lights and have fun.

Q: Do you see any danger in focusing too much on this one day as a means of expressing love?

Dr. Kirschner: Absolutely. The advertising industry holds up an image of the perfect Valentine’s Day experience, with flowery cards, fancy chocolates, uber-romantic dinners, and, of course, a dozen red roses. All of which can be very difficult to create in real life, all on this one special day (which may coincide with heavy responsibilities at work, family needs, financial constraints or other real life demands). As a result, expectations are raised and often not met. Unmet expectations can have a negative impact on a love relationship. Furthermore, disappointment can lead to arguments, the silent treatment and emotional distancing. So, Valentine’s Day, with its commercialistic to-do list, can boomerang on lovers.

Instead, this year, declare your Valentine’s Day celebration to be on a day when both of you are relatively free. It might be the Friday, Saturday or Sunday before or the next weekend. Make an exciting date in the next few weeks and I do mean exciting. So, when you go to the restaurant with the sensual belly-dancing, tell the waiter that you are celebrating Valentine’s Day and put a smile on everyone’s face.

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