In this article, I provide strategies to help people who consider Valentine’s Day as more a source of stress than a romantic adventure.

Although Valentine’s Day brings many people love, romance and enjoyment, for others it is a stress-filled day which they must endure. People who are lonely as a result of not being in intimate relationships, couples in relationships lacking in enjoyment, and those who feel pressure from having to ‘deliver’ romantically are among the many in our population who experience emotional difficulties with this icon of romantic days on our calendar. In this article, I will first identify the reasons some people having trouble getting through Valentine’s Day. Then I will provide strategies to make it easier to deal with these different types of Valentine’s Day stress. I have helped clients use these strategies successfully in my role as a Calgary psychologist and a Cochrane psychologist.

Causes of Valentine’s Day stress

If you believe your relationship is not going well, the resulting stress you feel may be intensified by being exposed on Valentine’s Day to relationship ideals of which you believe you are falling short. When you are bombarded with messages in the media and elsewhere of couples who appear to be deeply and passionately in love with each other, it is easy to feel inferior by comparing yourself to these couples.

Even if your relationship is going well, you may feel performance anxiety stemming from the belief that you must ‘hit a home run’ on this special day by getting the right flowers or other gifts for your partner or choosing the perfect venue for a romantic dinner. If you are not in a relationship, your feelings of loneliness and low self-esteem may be intensified by seeing and hearing about couples in intimate relationships all Valentine’s Day long.

Dr. Patrick Keelan Relationship and Couples Counselling

Strategies to deal with Valentine’s Day stress

If you use the following techniques, you should find Valentine’s Day less stressful and you may even enjoy it!

View the romantic images you’re exposed to in proper perspective. If you’re feeling that your relationship is lacking by comparison when you see couples behaving romantically toward each other, remind yourself that you are only getting a brief snapshot of these couples’ relationships. Were you to spend time observing more of these couples’ interactions, you would likely find that their relationships also have problems and that your relationship does not appear so bad by comparison.

Recognize that advertising portrayals of romance tend to be distorted and idealistic. If you feel that your relationship does not measure up to those portrayed in advertising leading up to Valentine’s Day, recognize that it is unlikely that anybody’s relationship could measure up to these portrayals. Advertisers are driven to maximize profits and they do so on Valentine’s Day by exposing consumers to associations between their products and idealistic images of romance.

Counteract ‘Valentine’s Day performance anxiety’ by reminding yourself that your relationship is not all about one day. Many people feel pressure to ‘deliver’ on Valentine’s Day by getting their partners the ideal flowers or other gifts, choosing the perfect restaurant for a romantic dinner, or coming up with brilliant romantic words and phrases to say or write to their partners. Although it is appropriate to express your romantic feelings toward your partner through these various means, the pressure some people feel to get it ‘just right’ can often detract from their enjoying Valentine’s Day and their time with their partners. You can reduce this stress and improve your enjoyment and relaxation by reminding yourself that how you behave toward your partner on the other 364 days of the year is much more important than whether you achieve the ultimate in romantic behavior toward them on Valentine’s Day. In other words, if you consistently behave in a loving manner toward your partner the rest of the year, failing to achieve perfection with your Valentine’s Day romantic efforts will do little to detract from your partner’s positive feelings toward you. Similarly, if you don’t consistently behave in a loving manner toward your partner the rest of the year, ‘knocking it out of the park’ romantically on Valentine’s Day will have at best temporary positive effects on your partner and your relationship.

If Valentine’s Day leaves you feeling genuinely concerned that your relationship doesn’t measure up, this may be a signal for you to take action. It is possible that your relationship may indeed be lacking in intimacy or have other issues which need to be addressed. Couples counselling or relationship counselling can help you work on these concerns so that you can feel good about your relationship on Valentine’s Day and throughout the rest of the year. In some instances, the action you may need to take is ending your current relationship so that you can move on to a relationship which is more enjoyable.

If you are not in an intimate relationship and feel especially lonely on Valentine’s Day, this may also be a signal for you to take action. The kind of action for you to take when you are lonely may vary depending on your circumstances and personality. For example, you may want to work on building your friendship network or perhaps explore opportunities which may facilitate your becoming involved in an intimate relationship. In other instances, the action you need to take to deal with your loneliness may be working on yourself by learning to be comfortable being on your own and perhaps building your self-esteem. Going for depression counselling or self-esteem counselling may be helpful to you in addressing these concerns.

Be good to yourself on Valentine’s Day. If you don’t have someone you love with whom you can share Valentine’s Day, focus on being good to yourself that day rather than engaging in self-torture by comparing yourself to romantic couples you see around you and in the media. Give yourself a treat by making or ordering a special meal, watching a favourite movie, relaxing in a warm bath or engaging in other activities which make you feel good. If you treat yourself well, it will be easier for you to feel good about yourself even though you do not actively participate in the romantic activities of Valentine’s Day. If you engage in activities which help you feel good about yourself on Valentine’s Day and other days, this will increase the likelihood that potential romantic partners will be attracted to you. So the next time Valentine’s Day rolls around, you are more likely to be celebrating the occasion with a romantic partner.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

-Dr. Pat