It’s dumb. Really. We’ve all been bamboozled into believing we need to spend billions (with a b, seriously) on roses and cards and diamonds and unmentionables to celebrate Valentines Day – one day per year.
We aren’t “stuff” people. It’s way more fun to treat each other to time together creating memory-making experiences.
So it was really easy to slide into a pattern of not giving gifts.
Which was fine, until “no gifts” turned into no cards. And then no cards turned into no acknowledgement. And that turned into apathy, which is really just a disguise for resentment, and that almost turned into divorce.
I had convinced myself that we were brave and special for bucking the system and saying no to the pressure of out-gifting each other and everyone else on social media. But that story I told myself really just covered up a seed of disappointment.
There’s no yuckier feeling in your marriage than disappointment. And it all boils down to expectations. Which require communication. Neither of which were part of our system. So it was easier to lie to myself than it was to admit (much less say out loud) that the pattern we slipped into was making me feel unloved. It wasn’t the gift I was hoping for. It was the sentiment behind the gift I was craving from my husband.
Looking back, “no gifts is just fine” was just one of several big hairy lies I told myself to cover up bad behavior on both our parts. Hindsight is 20/20, so here are the Big 5 Lies I quit believing.
Well, on the surface it kind of is. I don’t advise trying to wrap all your love and appreciation into triple-priced roses on one day of the year. But what Valentines Day stands for is not stupid at all.
What I really need in my marriage is to be seen, heard, and understood. Although the traditional flowers and chocolate are a welcome gift, I don’t really need them. But gifts are a visible way to say “I see you and I appreciate you and I still love you.” And for someone whose love language is gifts, you better have a good one ready. Well thought out, beautifully wrapped, thoughtfully presented. For me, a neck rub or a perfectly-seared steak packs the same punch! Know what your spouse loves and make it happen. (Read up on the 5 Love Languages if you’ve never done it. It’ll change the way you see your spouse and help you understand yourself better too!)
I get it. It’s expensive, it’s inconvenient, I don’t want to find a babysitter, I don’t have anything to wear, the list goes on. Those are all really valid reasons not to get a regular date night on the calendar. But it cost us big in the trust and intimacy departments. It’s not the “fancy” of the date that matters – it’s the time spent together.
Our favorite date is a 60-minute burger and dessert when my regular Wednesday meeting is cancelled. (Secret’s out, church people.) But when that’s not an option, our favorite date is a bucket of crawfish. It’s inexpensive, the mess is the fun, no fancy clothes are required, and if you’re lucky, your divey crawfish joint will have live music and the most fantastic people watching.
Get creative. You don’t have to spend a lot of money, or any at all. Put the children to bed and cook dinner together or play a game. I can’t tell you how many funny nights we’ve spent playing Mario Kart. Most of them were before we had children! Just like the gift, a date night is less about the money spent or the activity you choose and more about the quality time spent together. (The only rule is you have to turn your phones OFF. Leave one on vibrate for the sitter.)
Yes our kids do matter most in our life, but not in the way I was telling myself. The very best thing for children is the very best marriage between their parents. And you will never make steps towards your best marriage if you never spend time on it – away from your children.
This sounds so preachy. I can hear it. But I promise this is all learned from really miserable experience.
Childcare is an easy excuse that stands in the way. I’ve made it a million times, so I know how lame a roadblock it is. I can feel you bristling but I’m not buying what you’re selling so you can go ahead and stop. Here are some solutions!
You might have Grandmas and Grandpas nearby. (THANK YOU SO MUCH GRANDMAS AND GRANDPAS, we are alive and thriving because of you.) If you don’t have Grandmas nearby, and even if you do, find a church kid, a neighbor kid, someone you can train and who can grow up with your family. The good ones will stay with you for years and then they will come back from college, and you will cry tears of joy when you can drop everything and leave your house as a couple giving no instructions at all.
Interview them, negotiate a rate and expectations, and then do a trial run where they’re with your children in the house while you hide in your room and do anything you want with one ear to the door. You want to feel so great about your sitter that you can leave the house without worrying and checking your phone every five minutes. (That’s the easiest way to miss out on the fun of being on the date in the first place.)
Get creative if you need to in order to save and then spend the money on good babysitters. Pay good rates in cash or Venmo. Check around to see what the going rate is and then match or exceed it. Feed them dinner. Spoil them rotten. Tell them you will bonus pay them when the living room and kitchen are spotless when you return. You are hiring them for a service. Offer them the opportunity to wow you. Or barter with them if you have a good or service to trade! It’s an investment in your whole entire life. And if you’re weary of being the person who “always has to call the babysitter,” talk to your spouse about it. At our lowest point, I needed relief from that task and now Jack is the one who communicates with the sitters. It is such a freedom for me, which feels like a gift in itself.
Another fun option: trade babysitting with friends of yours. You keep the kids one weekend night, they’re on duty the next week. Free and fun!
For Valentines Day, especially now that we have a baby in the mix again, we find a fun daytime date. Be willing and flexible to let date night look a little different if it has to. Resist the temptation to compare your marriage, your date nights, or your life in general to other people’s. It’s senselessly setting you up for disappointment. You do you.
True beauty is on the inside. But I love when he takes care of himself, just like he loves when I take care of myself, and when I bring the best version of myself to our marriage.
Not just in appearance (although I know I feel great when I’m healthy and put together) but mostly in mind and spirit. Read because you want to have good conversation to bring to the table. Pray and meditate because you want to be centered and focused when you’ve got time to yourselves. Exercise because you want to feel comfortable in your clothes. I have a few go-to outfits and hair/makeup looks that make me feel like a million bucks so no insecurity or self-doubt gets in my way. Swap closets with a friend or find good bargains. DONATE CLOTHES YOU DO NOT LIKE TO WEAR. You will feel better when your closet is sparkling with pieces you like – even if it’s simply a capsule wardrobe of trusty never-fails.
If you want healthier habits as a couple, you might have to be the one to take the first step and be willing to step outside your comfort/interest zone. Maybe your date this week is a walk or a round of golf. My sister found an ax-throwing class once that was a crazy fun time for them!
For us women: I am a big fan of honoring what’s uniquely feminine about us. Go shopping in your closet and put together an outfit that makes you feel like a modern day superhero. Not for your spouse, but for yourself. I promise you’ll feel amazing and isn’t that the whole point anyway? To feel great so you can make other people feel great too? Find someone’s Pinterest account that looks like “your style” and have fun mixing and matching what you already have into something fun and new. Especially for Valentines Day!
If your marriage isn’t in a great place, the last thing (well, almost the last thing) you want to do is take a picture together. Snap the selfie anyway. You might not ever frame or display it, but it’s important to have, and look at frequently. Update your phone or computer wallpaper with a current photo of the both of you.
If you are in a great place, get that picture up on the wall post-haste. That little task is a celebration of your life and love and it’s so easy to do. It will make your spouse feel like a million bucks to know you want to take a picture with them. And when they start ripping themselves apart for the extra pounds or added wrinkles, use the opportunity to build them up and remind them how much you love them, gray hairs and all.
You might choose to look at Valentines Day a little differently this year. How can I honor my spouse and make them feel special? They might need the traditional fare – cards and flowers and gifts. And that is absolutely okay! Shower away! But there might be something else that would make them feel just as special. Sometimes a handwritten note or simple surprise would mean the world to them. Make the magic happen.
Bottom line: love each other well. Not just on Valentines Day, but every day, in the sweetest and simplest little ways. Need some ideas? Here’s a list of 101 Ways to Say I Love You that’ll help get you started.
Jessica is a writer, musician, entrepreneur, wife, and mom. Jessica's mission is to write "real" - shining light into the dark places of the tough stuff we all experience. She and her husband Jack live in Houston, Texas and have weathered the storms of grief, infant loss, adoption, and a marriage that almost fell apart. Jessica and Jack have 4 children, LJ in heaven, Grace, Jackson, and brand new baby Elisha.