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Laura Hunt

Relationship Guide
February 2004:
Turn Down the Pressure for a Happy Valentine's Day
by Claire Hatch
Claire Hatch, MSW is a licensed social worker and mediator who specializes in working with couples. She counsels people by phone around the world and in person in her Seattle area office.

Claire will be happy to answer your relationship questions in this column. Please send them to or call her at 425.823.2273.
Want more relationship help? Then The Bridal Sanity Workbook is for you. Claire shares wisdom from her pre-wedding counseling experience and her work with troubled marriages.

When you’re engaged, Valentine’s Day is especially sweet. You’re feeling extra romantic, and what could be better than another excuse to indulge in this mood? This year, you get a bonus. Valentine’s Day falls on a Saturday. You don’t have to rush home from work, get out of your suit, and race out to make your dinner reservations. You can make your celebration a leisurely, day-long affair, and I highly recommend that you do.

Why? Because you and your fiancé need the down time. Together. Being engaged can be a double whammy. You’re creating a new relationship and a new life. That takes time. But thanks to your second job--wedding planning--you no doubt have less time. And you’re overwhelmed with decisions. The result can be an emotional squeeze.

“About 3 months before our wedding, the pressure was building,” said Shelley. “The reality of living together was hitting me. I’m very organized and Dave is a go-with-the-flow guy, so we have some adjusting to do. And his mother was taking a very active interest our wedding, if you get my drift. I was asking myself, What am I really getting into here?”

What Shelley needed was pressure-free time to explore these questions with her fiancé. Like many brides, she was having trouble finding it.

This year, Valentine’s Day gives you the perfect opportunity for down time. Down time means slowing your pace and taking a break from decisions. Here are four tips for making that happen.
  1. Spend the whole day together. Leave some empty time. We’re all so focused on efficiency and productivity in our daily lives. That’s great for work, but relationships need a different kind of fuel--relaxation. You can’t squeeze emotional growth into a timetable. If you try, your efforts will only boomerang. When you have down time, you’ll find yourself talking about things you never imagined, and feeling closer than ever.
  2. Resist the temptation to turn Valentine’s Day into a romance extravaganza. Sometimes brides and grooms feel an obligation to plan really impressive (read: expensive) activities for Valentine’s Day. Don’t you have enough things to plan? And spend money on? Keep it simple. Want to go away for the whole weekend? Great idea, but pick a place that’s close, and drive, don’t fly.
  3. Make all wedding planning activities off-limits on Valentine’s Day. No picking up invitations, no shopping for rings. It might sound like fun just to browse jewelry stores, but before you know it, you’ll be weighing the pros and cons. Once you’re thinking about decisions, you’re not relaxed.
  4. Try doing something you don’t usually do. Are you city folks? Rent a canoe for an hour. Do weekends usually find you out on the hiking trails? Wander around a museum. Shake up your routine. It’s energizing, refreshing, and positively invites you to get to know each other better.

Shelley and Dave decided to go out for a leisurely breakfast at a place they loved but didn’t often get to because it was in a neighboring town. Then they went browsing in nearby antique shops. But they agreed in advance not to buy anything that day. Nothing like spending big sums of money to make you wonder where the relaxation went! After that, they impulsively drove a scenic mountain route they’d been meaning to explore. They finished up with a casual dinner.

“I think spending time together without having to accomplish anything really helped us,” said Shelley. “With the wedding, we forgot what that was like. I can’t say that we solved all our issues. But we did talk a bit about his mother and I feel he understands more about why she stresses me. I definitely feel happier. Our love feels bigger, and our differences feel smaller.”

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