When a marriage is falling apart, Valentine’s Day can be a lonely time. If you’ve already split up, or even if you’re in the middle of the process, it can be a challenging day. It’s hard not to be reminded that the love of your life is no longer the love of your life.
I totally get it. I’ve been there, too. We tend to create traditions around holidays like Valentine’s Day, or we have unexpressed expectations from our partners, and when they don’t deliver, we are disappointed. It’s hard not to feel the emptiness on a day when you used to be treated like the god or goddess that you are. The surprise gift, the romantic dinner, and even the flowers or the card were nice reminders that you mattered.
Researchers at the College of Charleston report that the stress of this holiday has an undeniable effect on couples already experiencing problems. In the two weeks before and after Valentine’s Day, couples were 2.5 times more likely to split up than any other time of the year. It also seems to be a catalyst for spouses that have already separated. A study of divorce cases in California, Illinois, and New York found an 18% jump in divorce filings in February.
How do we make it through the holiday? Nancy Colier, a psychotherapist says that given all the anxiety around Valentine’s Day, we should focus on taking care of ourselves, even if it doesn’t come naturally at first.
“Self-love is about fiercely staying on our own side, knowing and affirming that our experience matters and is important, simply because it’s our experience,” she writes. “At its core, self-love is the willingness to listen to and care about our own heart.”
So regardless of your relationship status on Valentine’s Day, it’s a good idea to plan ahead. Think about ways you can spend the day that would foster feeling good about yourself, even if the rest of the culture seems obsessed with being a couple.
Here’s a couple of ideas to get the ball rolling:
Talk to your spouse. If you’re still living together with your partner, it might be wise to discuss the day in advance. Share that you are dreading the day. You two could decide to spend the day together, either doing what you used to do or something completely different that still honors your past, but also accepts the reality that the marriage is over. Or, you might prefer to do your own thing. The point is to make a plan so that there are no surprises.
Spend time with your kids. I know, it’s not exactly a romantic vision for Valentine’s Day, but if you have children you might plan something fun for them. It can be an opportunity to show that love is deeper than just being a romantic couple. Go to a movie. Stay in and binge watch something you’ve all been dying to see. Get some exercise, or go to a sporting event as a family. If you go out for a meal at a restaurant, the louder the better. Encourage a sense of celebration of the love that still exists in your changing family. Do not attempt this if you think it will end up more like hanging out with “depressed dad” or “mopey mom.”
Phone a friend. Think about your inner circle of close friends. Make a date to get together. Maybe a friend is dealing with a stressful time in their life, and you can be a source of support. It doesn’t have to be about your break up. Go somewhere you can talk and let them pour their heart out. In short, make the day about them. You’ll feel great lending a shoulder to a friend. Valentine’s Day can just be a celebration of love in all its forms.
Help a stranger. Remember, you are not the only person in the country feeling alone on Valentine’s Day. Maybe it’s a good time to volunteer for a cause that is close to your heart. Visit an older person with mobility issues who’s not able to leave their home. Drop off some clothes at a homeless shelter. Serve up meals at a soup kitchen. Giving back to your community provides a sense of connection on a day when you may not be feeling connected to much love.
Focus on you. I’m a huge fan of anything that smacks of self-care on Valentine’s Day. Treat yourself to a mani-pedi. Indulge in a deep-tissue massage. Go check out some live music. Order too much food from your favorite restaurant and have a taste of everything. Go shopping and make yourself your favorite meal, or something new for a change.
You’ll probably think of a dozen other ideas off the top of your head. The point is to take back the day and make yourself someone who is worth celebrating-regardless of what your estranged, or former spouse is doing.
Transform the day. Make it your own. Celebrate yourself and all the love you have in your heart and your family.