Valentine’s Day’s significance within a relationship depends on the couple’s individual expectations. In relationships where both partners view Valentine’s Day as a contrived holiday for forced affection, expectations are low and Valentine’s Day is not very important. If, on the other hand, one or both partners have waited a lifetime to be on the receiving end of romantic gestures on Valentine’s Day, the holiday has the power to fulfill or disappoint enormous expectations.

If an expression of love on Valentine’s Day is the most telling sign of care and commitment to a partner, more real than paying the mortgage, wiping a child’s runny nose, or making coffee in the morning, then to that relationship, Valentine’s Day is vital, and the risk of disappointment is high. Lisa Gordon, PhD, licensed clinical psychologist at The Family Institute at Northwestern University, is available to comment on the best ways for couples to handle the pressures and risks surrounding Valentine’s Day.

“When expectations for Valentine’s Day align, either as ho-hum or hubba-hubba, risks diminish,” says Dr. Gordon. “When one partner discounts the holiday as a needless pressure while the other partner desires a unique, once-per-year confirmation of specialness, then disappointment and resentment arise. As a result, it’s important for couples to discuss their expectations early — start the discussion in January instead of waiting for February 14th.”

Dr. Gordon points out that the time leading up to Valentine’s Day provides the opportunity for partners to explore what the holiday, and holidays in general, have meant to one another in the past. How did each partner feel loved, cherished and special? What rituals created feelings of unity and family? What parts of these traditions would the couple like to preserve, discard, and/or tweak for their own unique bond and brood? “Sharing these memories and hopes for the future enhances intimacy and trust,” says Dr. Gordon.

Dr. Gordon provides the following tips for couples as they discuss their expectations for Valentine’s Day:

1.Differentiate a partner’s lack of exuberance about Valentine’s Day from a lack of caring or love in general — it may just be a reflection of how he/she feels about the holiday.2.Remember that 364 days of loving kindness trounces one day of ordinary.3.Determine what loving kindness means to your partner and display that — one partner’s two dozen roses equals another partner’s half an hour long-distance phone call to her best friend.4.Discuss expectations for Valentine’s Day in January — and be prepared.

Dr. Gordon earned her PhD from Ohio State with extensive research and training in marital relations. She has taught Abnormal Psychology and Developmental Psychology and is a frequent presenter on parenting topics, including protecting one’s marriage while parenting. In addition, she has published articles on relationship issues such as infertility and divorce.

To speak with Dr. Gordon about Valentine’s Day issues for couples, or learn more about The Family Institute at Northwestern University, please contact Colleen O’Connor at [email protected] or 312-509-6300 ext. 485.

ABOUT THE FAMILY INSTITUTE AT NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY – For 45 years, The Family Institute at Northwestern University ( has been committed to strengthening and healing families from all walks of life through clinical service, education and research. An affiliate of Northwestern University, The Family Institute is a unique, innovative not-for-profit organization, governed by its own independent Board of Directors and responsible for its own funding. The Institute offers a wide range of high quality mental health counseling through our staff practice and our sliding-fee scale Bette D. Harris Family and Child Clinic, where we are committed to serving at-risk, under-resourced communities. The Family Institute also operates two nationally-renowned graduate programs in marriage and family therapy and counseling psychology in affiliation with Northwestern University, and conducts cutting edge research projects that lead to a better understanding and treatment of mental health issues.

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