I love Valentine’s Day. Lots of good memories are associated with it, and since I love seasonal decorating and small celebrations, it’s one of my favorite minor holidays. However, I know that it’s a tough time that triggers painful emotions for many people. That’s especially true for Valentine’s Day when your marriage is struggling.
I’ll never forget one Valentine’s Day when our marriage had gone through a rocky season.
I once heard that sometimes the tide goes out on your marriage, and all you see on the beach is ugly seaweed and broken shells. Then the tide comes back in and the beauty and rhythm returns. This was a year when the tide was far out to sea.
We had moved to a new state and my pastor-husband was wrapped up in the work of a new church. Our ninth child was only two months old when we arrived at our new home. Somewhere between unpacking boxes and hanging curtains, I silently allowed the seeds of resentment to sprout because my husband was working very long hours. I felt like he dropped us off at the curb and went on his way.
You see, we tell ourselves stories to explain life, and this was the first draft I made up. I got pretty good at telling it to myself.
From what I can remember, this went on for several months. We moved in August and I was still dealing with it in February.
But the day before Valentine’s Day, I made a decision. I planned breakfast in bed for my husband, even though I didn’t feel like doing it. I didn’t focus on my own desire to have breakfast in bed served to me. I got out the antique china, bought flowers and arose very early to cook eggs and toast. I served him breakfast on a tray, with beautiful dishes and a candle.
I don’t remember him being particularly thrilled or grateful, although he did have a surprised look on his face. But I do remember that day being a turning point in my own attitude. I took my self-focus and blame firmly in hand and did what was right. The feelings soon followed and before I knew it, the tide of our marriage came back in.
Many in our society use Valentine’s Day as a way to sell stuffed bears and nighties, and to guilt men into trying to make up for all the times they’ve gotten it wrong the rest of the year. The pressure on them can be tremendous, compounded by the previous reactions of disappointment from their wives. I know it’s complicated and this date on the calendar is painful for many.
But I also know that we get to choose the story we believe about Valentine’s Day and every other day of the year. I crumpled the paper on the first draft and started writing a new story that year. It didn’t mean that I lied to myself and said my husband was perfect (although he really IS awesome). I just DECIDED what to focus on and I changed my actions.
If Valentine’s Day is painful because of a struggling marriage or no marriage at all, we can still choose to look around and see who we can bless with our actions. Is it easy or fun? Probably not. But once you get started, you might feel some joy and excitement bubble up. The trick is to do it anyway, without attaching expectations to it.
Expectations are premeditated resentments.
And that is guaranteed to spoil the day. Keep it simple. Don’t be a martyr. A small gesture may be a big stretch for you. If you “know” that you won’t be receiving any tokens of love for Valentine’s Day, then love yourself. Buy flowers, light a candle, go see a fun movie with friends. It may not remove all of the sting, but it sure beats tears and focusing on painful feelings of rejection.
Valentine’s Day when your marriage is struggling can be a challenge. It’s tempting to stay miserable because we feel like we have a right to feel sorry for ourselves. Yes, that’s one of the choices. We hope it will punish someone else, but it hurts us the most. So maybe it’s time to do something you don’t feel like doing. It might end up turning the tide.