7 Gifts To Keep Your Valentine, Your Valentine!
There’s a lot of talk these days about how to keep love and passion alive in marriage. That’s a good thing. Since Valentine’s Day is upon us, it’s a great time to think about love in your relationship/s. As a marital therapist, my daily life is filled with broken and loveless relationships. Sometimes couples come to see me because of a catastrophic event like infidelity, or most often they simply grew apart due to emotional neglect. Either way, both people are hurting because they have lost their partner. Even though I have been working with couple for almost 25 years, it continues to be so sad as I witness such intense suffering. It’s tragic for many reasons when a marriage ends, but especially because there was a time when they both loved each other and enjoyed their relationship. It’s doubly tragic because so many marital problems can be prevented if you know how to feed your love and friendship—to keep your Valentine, your Valentine.
The good news is that if you give your marriage a little extra TLC, bless your valentine with these simple, but powerful gifts, your relationship will come alive again. Think of these 7 gifts for your Valentine as “super food” for your relationship. They will not only keep your marriage strong and healthy, but prevent most of the relationship diseases out there, including infidelity. They are also very potent relationship antibiotics to bring healing and emotional health to struggling marriages.
If you are coming from a Christian world-view, I have included relevant texts and biblical principles to encourage you to honor your marriage and your spouse. The 7 Gifts To Keep Your Valentine, Your Valentine are:
1. The gift of Kindness
2. The gift of Positivity
3. The gift of Appreciation
4. The gift of Time
5. The gift of Romance
6. The gift of Truthfulness
7. The gift of Forgiveness
1. The Gift Of Kindness
Let’s start with a biggie. It almost sounds silly to say that kindness is central to having a healthy relationship. It should be self- evident. But when we’re struggling or frustrated in a marriage, it’s often the first thing to go. Early in our relationships it seems so natural to be kind to each other. We’re kind in the things we say, we’re kind in things we do, and we’re kind in the way we sacrifice for each other. We are even kind in the way we think about each other. Kindness brings a loving thoughtfulness toward our loved one or spouse. At a core level, kindness is an internal heart-attitude that compels us to seek and express goodwill to the person on the other end of the relationship. Kindness is the fuel that runs the mutual need-meeting engine in our relationships. According to Galatians 5:22, kindness is one of the “fruits” or works of the Spirit, and throughout the New Testament, loving-kindness is repeatedly held up as the hallmark of Christian community (John 15:8-17; Ephesians 4:23; 1 John 4:7-11).
The amazing thing about kindness is that you can be kind to your spouse even when they’re not being kind to you, and so often it influences your spouse to be kind in return. “Wait a minute! Are you saying, be kind to my spouse even if they are not being kind to me?” Yes! “But, they don’t deserve it.” You’re probably right, but think of it as kindness reciprocity. I’ve seen it happen countless times in my office. When one of the individuals shows incredible courage by expressing kindness, even in the face of an unkind emotional climate, it powerfully influences their spouse. Bottom line, kindness begets kindness.
When an individual, whether it is the husband or wife, shows incredible courage by expressing kindness, even in the face of an unkind emotional climate, it powerfully influences their spouse. Bottom line, kindness begets kindness. So it turns out that one of the best things you can do to keep your Valentine, your Valentine is practice kindness.
Check out Shaunti Feldhahn’s latest research from her provocative book, “The Kindness Challenge: Thirty Days to Improve Any Relationship.” She documents that “targeted kindness,” specific to the individual and their needs, has the amazing power to transform even the most difficult relationships. A whopping 89% of the participants in her study said their relationships improved, even when the kindness was one-sided. I hope you caught that! What her research shows is that practicing kindness towards someone not only changes my relationship, but in the process it actually changes me—it makes me more kind. That’s profound! So, it turns out that one of the best things you can do to keep your Valentine, your Valentine is practice kindness.
2. The Gift Of Positivity
There’s a lot of sad and disturbing research that shows what negativity does to our relationships. Negativity not only contaminates our relationships but also poisons our ability to see our spouse for who they really are, including the positive things they do for us in our relationships. One of the significant contributors to distress or divorce is a phenomenon called “negative sentiment override.” It’s a condition where there is a discrepancy between how marital interaction or communication is experienced by each partner. What was intended as neutral or positive is interpreted as negative or critical. Consequently, the negative sentiment or emotion overrides the positive interactions. So often I see couples who are stuck with these negative attributions of each other, and it not only poisons their relationship, it also poisons their own heart toward their spouse. A large part of this negative influence is fueled by nurturing resentment and bitterness toward their spouse. Inevitably, they see themselves as largely innocent of the problems in the relationship, and victimized by their “bad” or damaged partner. Later, we’ll look at how forgiveness is a big part of restoring positivity.
Research also shows that couples miss as much as 50% of the positive things their spouse says or does for them when they are trapped in negative sentiment override. That’s the bad news. Research also indicates that couples who create and live in the opposite emotional climate, “positive sentiment override,” usually interpret their partner’s behavior and the interaction as positive. Even with the inevitable hurtful exchanges, they are not seen as particularly negative, and not taken so personally. This time the positivity overrides or colors how they see each other and their relationship in general. So, the big “take home” is to nurture positivity in your relationship, and intentionally look for the good in your spouse.
So, the big “take home” is to nurture positivity in your relationship, and intentionally look for the good in your spouse . . . most of the couples we work with in our clinic really didn’t want a divorce; they just didn’t know how to make the pain stop.
A few years ago I saw a couple that presented with chronic negative conflict that had often escalated to the point of hurtful verbal abuse and repeated threats of divorce. The negativity and the attack/withdraw cycle had completely taken over their marriage. I could see the hostility boiling over in our initial session, but I also saw that underneath all that negativity, they still loved each other. And, like most of the couples we work with in our clinic, they really didn’t want a divorce; they just didn’t know how to make the pain stop. I gave them a simple assignment: to go home and for the next week, deliberately avoid making any negative comments, to simply look for things they valued and admired in each other, and spend time talking about those things. The following week at our next session I was surprised when they walked into my office laughing and holding hands. When I asked what happened to create such a drastic change in one week, they said that they were shocked by how different they felt as they focused on expressing their mutual admiration for each other. Of course not every relationship has such an amazing overnight change, but it demonstrates the power of positivity and the paramount importance of drastically reducing negativity in our relationships. The healing that began in their marriage reminds me of the timeless words of King Solomon, recorded over 3,000 years ago: “Death and life are in the power of the tongue,” and, “the soothing tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit” (Proverbs 18:21 and Proverbs 15:4). Both of their spirits (hearts) were being crushed by the negativity and hurtful words. When they deliberately focused on the positive things about their relationship and each other, it breathed life back into their marriage. Give your spouse and your relationship the gift of positivity if you want to keep your Valentine, your Valentine!
3. The Gift Of Appreciation
Obviously, showing and expressing appreciation for your spouse is closely related to positivity that we just looked at. One of the sad realities of our busy lives is that it’s so easy to take for granted all the things that our spouse does for us. I don’t know about you, but for me it’s easy to be hypocritical on this one. I want appreciation for the things I do, but there are times I forget or neglect to show appreciation for the things that my wife does for me. So often I see appreciation-deprived couples who are starving for the slightest bit of encouragement from their spouse. To help couples, we created an exercise where they identity at least 15 positive qualities about their spouse that they sincerely appreciate, from a list of 101 character traits. For the next month they look for opportunities to daily express their appreciation. I remember working on the exercise with my wife when we were on vacation, and asking if she would be my guinea pig to see if the exercise could generate positive feelings in our relationship. I remember being so surprised how powerful our words were to each other as we shared our mutual appreciation. “Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones” (Proverbs 16:24). Words matter!
If we regularly treat our spouse with contempt, we actually weaken their immune system, and as a result they are more likely to suffer from infectious diseases like colds and flues.
Here’s how powerful our words are: research shows that if we regularly treat our spouse with contempt, we actually weaken their immune system, and as a result they are more likely to suffer from infectious diseases like colds and flus. Whoa, that’s astonishing! Here’s the deal: contempt is an attitude of arrogance and superiority, which helps us justify harmful behavior like name-calling, rudeness, and disrespect. Fortunately, the antidote for contempt is “building a culture of appreciation” through fondness and admiration. Instead of looking for what your spouse is doing wrong or how they are frustrating you, focus on what they are doing right and share your appreciation. Give it a try. Start today by making your list of the qualities that you appreciate and admire about your spouse. Then for the next 30 days, focus on those things and expressing them to your spouse. You may even want to keep an appreciation journal on your phone or in a note pad to remind you. It also would be a great time to share a prayer of thankfulness to God for how He made your spouse. Remember, you will keep your Valentine, your Valentine, if you make expressing appreciation the emotional norm in your marriage!
4. The Gift Of Time
So often I see marriages that are literally starving to death emotionally; they simply don’t get enough time and attention. As we have already said, because we live such busy lives, too often our marriage gets leftovers. Usually it’s the “squeaky wheel gets the oil”—our boss squeaks at work, our children squeak (a lot) , financial pressures squeak, the house squeaks, the laundry squeaks, our kids’ sports and activities squeak, etc. By the time we start squeaking in our marriages, it’s usually loud and hurtful. No wonder we are frustrated with each other—we simply don’t give our relationships the time and energy they need to flourish and be mutually fulfilling. It’s one thing to talk about valuing our spouse; it’s another thing to give them one of our most valuable commodities–time. The research on how much time couples spend together is limited. The range is somewhere between 2–4 hours per day depending on your season of life (i.e., married with or without children), social economic status, and a number of other factors. But, what is clear in a number of studies in the United States and Europe, the most common shared activity is watching television, which accounts for a third of the time, followed by eating together, and household responsibilities.
Can we all agree that watching television is not quality time in a marriage? Reflect on the wisdom Rick Warren offers about time and love, “Time is your most precious gift because you only have a set amount of it. You can make more money, but you can’t make more time. When you give someone your time, you are giving them a portion of your life that you’ll never get back. Your time is your life. That is why the greatest gift you can give someone is your time. It is not enough to just say relationships are important; we must prove it by investing time in them. Words alone are worthless . . . Relationships take time and effort, and the best way to spell love is “T-I-M-E.” Ephesians 5:15 warns us to be smart with how we use our time, including (I would add) time for our marriages: “Therefore, be careful how you walk, not as unwise men, but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil.” Give your marriage the time and attention it deserves, and you will keep your Valentine, your Valentine.
5. The Gift Of Romance
When was the last time you really had a lot of fun on a date with your wife or your husband? Dating should be fun! My wife and I have been married for more than 30 years and we still look forward to our date nights. We have learned to cherish our times together and fight to keep romance alive. It’s easy, however, to get into a romantic rut. You know what I’m talking about. It’s just easier to lie around the house and watch television or play on social media than to be intentional about planning something special for our spouse. Especially us guys; we tend to get a little lazy when it comes to being romantic in our marriages. There have been times when I have blown it out on a date because I was distracted by the game on the TV in the restaurant. Obviously, that’s the opposite of romance because it communicates that the game is more important than sharing a special evening out with my wife. Ouch!
If you are going to keep romance and passion alive in your relationship, and keep your valentine your valentine, it won’t be enough to dump a truck load of chocolate into your relationship on Valentine’s Day.
Early in our relationships, I can almost guarantee, what was so fun or romantic was the anticipation of seeing each other again, and enjoying the warmth of being close and treated as special. Romance means different things to different people, but if you are going to keep romance and passion alive in your relationship, it won’t be enough to dump a truck load of chocolate into your relationship on Valentine’s Day. Think about romance as this invisible energy that draws you together, and generates excitement for connecting, sharing, companionship, affection, and emotional and physical intimacy. There is something magical about being desired; being the beloved object, treated as special, and with high value. So, if you want to re-romance your relationship, it’s going to take some effort and intentionality. Start with small things; the day-to-day kindnesses mentioned above, where you are thoughtfully meeting each other’s needs. Take 1 John 3:18 to heart, “Dear children, let us not love with words or speech, but with actions and in truth.” Look for opportunities to express care and consideration for each other—actions of love. This has to be the foundation. Without consistent deposits in your emotional love tanks, occasional romantic get-a-ways or date nights won’t sustain the love in your relationship.
It’s been said that kindness is the best aphrodisiac to stimulate love and sexual passion. Ladies, I know you agree with that one! So, what are practical things couples can do? Try setting aside a whole evening dedicated to romance. If you are married, pull out your wedding album, video or digital pictures, and slowly spend some time reminiscing about your wedding day and honeymoon. Share your favorite memories or highlights. Describe how you felt and what your spouse did to make you fall in love them. Warning! This is NOT a time to be critical or make veiled references of what your spouse is not doing today. That will sabotage the whole evening. Next, take turns sharing your favorite dates together, and talk about what was fun, why it sticks out in your mind. Your evening may include a romantic dinner and/or intimate conversation at a local coffee shop. If you can afford it, I would suggest going for it, and staying the night at a hotel. Bring cards, flowers, candles, massage oil, lingerie, your favorite cologne/perfume, all your wedding pics, etc. Bring whatever you need to make it fun and romantic. Again, snuggle up in bed and reminisce about your history together, and then talk about how you can revive some of the fun and romance that you have shared together.
If you are a Christ-follower, I would suggest making prayer an important part of your night. Thank God for your marriage, rededicate your relationship to Him, as well as thank Him for and celebrate the gift of romance and sexual passion. Listen to the passion and romance in The Song of Solomon 4:9-11a “You have made my heart beat faster, my sister , my bride; you have made my heart beat faster with a single glance of your eyes, with a single strand of you necklace. How beautiful is your love my sister, my bride! How much better is your love than wine, and the fragrance of your oils than all kinds of spices! Your lips, my bride, drip honey; honey and milk are under your tongue.” Now that’s romantic! Most of us aren’t as poetic as King Solomon, but you have to keep romance alive in your relationship if you are going to keep your Valentine, your Valentine.
6. The Gift Of Truthfulness
I really like what John Ortberg said: “The truth about you is that you don’t know the truth about you.” Think about that for a second. That’s profound! If we can get over the initial offense, what he is saying is SO true, and has massive implications, especially for marriage. It’s a statement about the human condition. The painful truth is that my heart and your heart are predisposed to self-centeredness, not self-denial, and self-serving not self-sacrifice. Not only that, but research, the bible, and life experience all point to the disturbing fact that we all tend to be self-deceived when it comes to our own brokenness (see Romans 1:18; Matthew 7:1-5).
The good news is if you want a breakthrough in your marriage, it always involves telling the truth. Someone has to be courageous enough to tell the truth. From my experience, ideally, it starts with telling God the truth. That’s confession; just tell Him the truth. That could even mean telling God that you feel trapped, you want a divorce, or that you refuse to love or respect your spouse. If I were to be that honest with myself and/or God, what I would be saying is that “I have a problem. ME. Not her, but me.” Because of our self-centeredness (depravity), we all default to “YOU have the problem, not me.” (Sidebar: what I’m NOT saying is that, under the guise of “telling the truth,” you hurt your spouse with negative and critical attacks. We’ve already seen how damaging that will be.)
I often sit with couples where the resentment is so deep that it’s almost coming out of their pores. I can feel it as they are walking into my office. I’m sitting there hoping someone will be humble enough and courageous enough to say, “Rob, can you help me? I’m so full of anger and bitterness, I don’t know what to do.” But of course they don’t, just like I didn’t when my wife and I were stuck years ago in painful destructive cycles in our marriage. I wanted to focus on how my wife was hurting and offending me, instead of how I was hurting and offending her. We get so caught up in our own pain that we can’t see the pain we are causing our spouse. The universal temptation is to either justify our hurtful behavior, and somehow implicate our spouse, or shrink back into defensive self-protection.
We get so caught up in our own pain that we can’t see the pain we are causing our spouse.
Liberation from suppressing the truth and bondage to self-centeredness starts with small steps toward telling the truth. It starts when we bring the truth about us out into the light, and open our hearts to receive grace and forgiveness. Hiding the truth about us from God, ourselves, and our spouse keeps us enslaved by dark and self-serving desires (see James 4:1-3). I know what you’re thinking. “You don’t know my spouse, and how bad or hurtful he/she has been to me.” You are right, I don’t know your specific situation, and pain experienced in an intimate relationship like marriage can be some of the most excruciating. I’ve been there. What I do know from personal experience, and from working with hundreds of couples, is that marital pain and problems don’t cause selfishness, they expose it. What changed our marriage was when I starting telling the truth; the truth about my selfishness, my immaturity, my brokenness, my sin, and how all of that yucky stuff was impacting my wife (Karen). When I stopped focusing on what she needed to change about herself, and was honest about what needed to change in me, she felt safe enough to be open and honest about her brokenness as well. Many years later, it still can be hard to be that vulnerable in disclosing when we are being selfish, but we both have learned to value honesty and the closeness it brings over pride and self-protection.
If you are suffering in your marriage at a 9 out of 10, on the pain scale, this may sound unfair or even cruel. And, there are certainly relationships in which it is unsafe and unwise to open your heart to an abusive spouse. If you find yourself in this situation, consider what Proverbs 4:23 says, “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.” It would be best for you to find support and learn to set firm boundaries around harmful and/or abusive behavior. However, I have had the amazing privilege of seeing first hand in my own marriage, and with so many other couples, the healing power that comes when one person is humble and courageous enough to acknowledge how their selfishness is being expressed in ways that are hurting their spouse and the relationship. It’s truly a remarkable dynamic.
Picture a husband acknowledging to his hurting and angry wife that he frequently snaps at her when he senses her disappointment. If he can admit, without blaming her, that it is simply easier for him to withdraw than to be concerned for how he hurts her, something amazing can happen. Her heart spontaneously softens, and the anger she’s feeling almost completely melts on the spot. So what happened? Bottom line, when you and I tell the truth, it helps our spouse feel safe with us, and opens the door to emotional repair and trust-building. Think about it, honesty and courage are so attractive. We are naturally drawn toward that kind of strength of character. Whether in business or in personal relationships, we simply don’t respect or trust someone who won’t tell the truth or can’t admit when they are wrong. Once again, you will keep your Valentine, your Valentine, if you risk telling the truth!
7. The Gift Of Forgiveness
Forgiveness is hard work! And, yet, forgiveness is the most powerful healing force in the universe. On the cross, God demonstrated once and for all what love is, and what forgiveness can accomplish in our hearts and relationships. That’s one of the main reasons that we integrate Christian values and principles in our work with couples—per their request. Experiencing forgiveness personally, on the vertical dimension from God, enables and challenges me to extend forgiveness to those who have hurt me in my horizontal relationships (see Matthew 18:21-35). We live in a world and culture that has become so unbelievably strident and vicious. Forgiveness is truly the only hope for our world, and sometimes the only hope for our marriages. Forgiveness heals the violation cause by pain, hurt, and betrayal in our relationships, and establishes the emotional ground to restore our connection. Accordingly, let’s make a distinction between marital forgiveness from an emotional and volitional point of view. When you boil it down, forgiveness is a choice. It’s an act of the will. It’s not based on whether the other person deserves it or not. They probably don’t and we probably don’t either. Forgiveness is not excusing or implicitly saying the violation was okay. It’s never okay. Forgiveness cancels the debt that the person who hurt us can never repay. Forgiveness also frees us from exacting punishment, and leaves vengeance and/or the consequences to the providence of God. The deeper the hurt, and the closer the person is to us, the harder it is to forgive, especially if that person is our spouse. So, there is a volitional side to forgiveness; it’s a choice to forgive.
While you can forgive your spouse by force of will, re-attaching to them psychologically is an entirely different matter and level of reconciliation. To reach deep emotional repair in your relationship, to reestablish your emotional attachment, you have to process the pain and hurt that caused the “attachment injury.”
“To forgive you, for not being there when I desperately needed you, I have to speak my pain, and I have to see in your face that my pain hurts you.” –Dr. Sue Johnson
Research shows that genuine and lasting forgiveness at the psychological level is a dyadic emotionally-focused process. Here’s how Dr. Sue Johnson eloquently describes what she found in her research that makes this process work, “To forgive you, for not being there when I desperately needed you, I have to speak my pain, and I have to see in your face that my pain hurts you. And, you have to tell me that you feel sad, and remorse, and regret, and that you feel my pain. That works. Then I take the risk of asking you for what I needed in that moment of pain, and this time you are there, you respond. I ask you for reassurance and you are there . . . a reenactment of the original injury.”
We all need to work at giving and receiving forgiveness. As fallen and broken creatures, we will hurt each other in our marriages, but thankfully forgiveness brings spiritual and emotional repair. Forgiveness is indeed a choice, but we can help our spouse by sharing and shouldering the impact of the pain we have caused. Our remorse and regret provide comfort and the needed reassurance to reach deeper levels of intimacy and emotional reconnection. Make forgiveness a high value in your marriage to keep your Valentine, your Valentine!
There you have it, the 7 Gifts to Keep Your Valentine, Your Valentine. I promise you, if you give your marriage a little extra TLC, and bless your Valentine with these simple, but powerful gifts, you’ll have fun watching your relationship grow, heal, and flourish. Happy Valentine’s Day from our team Oakland Hills Counseling!
 Feldhahn, Shaunti. The Kindness Challenge: Thirty Days to Improve Any Relationship. Colorado Springs: WaterBrook, 2016.
 The concept of “Negative Sentiment Override” is attributed to Robert Weiss, PhD, and was verified and expanded in the research of John Gottman. See: The Marriage Clinic: A Scientifically Based Marital Therapy. New York: W.W. Norton &Company, 1999.
 Robinson, E.A., & Price, M.G. (1980). Pleasurable behavior in relationship interaction: An observational study. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 48, 117-118.
 Gottman, J.M., OpCit
 Gottman, J.M. and Gottman, J.S. Level 1 Clinical Training: The Gottman Method Couples Therapy. The Gottman Institute, Inc., 2014
 Fein, D. J. (2009). Spending Time Together: Time Use Estimates for Economically Disadvantaged and Nondisadvantaged Married Couples in the United States. MDRC publications.
 Warren, Rick. The Purpose Driven Life. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002.
 Quote attributed to John Ortberg without a primary source. From a message series at Menlo Park Presbyteria Church entitled “The truth about you.”
 Keller, T. & Keller, K. The Meaning Of Marriage: Facing The Complexities Of Marriage With The Wisdom Of God.New York: Dutton, a member of Penguin Group Inc. 2011.
 Follow link to watch Dr Sue Johnson explain the connection between forgiveness and emotional repair. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xRiLN8jpPM47 Gifts To Keep Your Valentine, Your Valentine!