Dr. Rick explains how to make this the best Valentine’s Day ever
Happy February, the month that celebrates heart health, African American history, love, and the 12th birthday of one of my wonderpups, Betty Lou. OK, perhaps these are not all necessarily of equal importance. (Although I have a four-legged creature staring at me right now who may have an opinion about that.) But hopefully they serve to heighten our awareness, letting us focus on things we might not always fully appreciate, or might not tend to as needed.
For instance, heart health may mean a physical check-up with your doctor that you’ve been putting off. Or perhaps it means getting back to an exercise program. Or yoga and meditation. Let February open the door for some healthy heart-work.
And, this month is about African American Culture and History. I have a dear friend in Los Angeles, Owen, who is African American. His take on February being Black History Month is, “Oh sure, give us the shortest month!” Even though Owen’s right, maybe this month you’ll start checking out the Bessie Smith Cultural Center, which always has events and exhibitions to educate and enlighten all of us, no matter our race.
And of course, here it is the month of St. Valentine’s Day. We’ve likely all experienced being single and being coupled. We all have single and coupled friends. Sometimes we’re content with our relationship status, and sometimes not. Maybe we veto the holiday altogether, maybe we really know how to use it, partnered or not.
I’ve known singles who have fun Valentine’s celebrations by teaming up with other non-partnered friends and treating themselves to a decadent night on the town, celebrating their singleness. And I’ve known couples that are absolutely content to stay at home and enjoy some champagne and chocolate—with only each other.
One friend of mine uses Valentine’s to reflect on this very issue: How does he take care of himself while single? And how is his life better or worse for being out of a relationship? And when he’s in one, he ponders if he is the best partner he’s been so far, or is he missing the lessons that each previous relationship offered.
Following his lead, let’s take a moment to explore what I believe to be a few of the most powerful qualities found in healthy, intimate, romantic relationships.
• Do whatever you can to worry less. If you tend to be a worrier, and you can use that energy for creative ideas to navigate or prepare for the problem, great. But what mostly happens is that our energy becomes sapped, our brains won’t let it go, our blood pressure spikes, and we miss out on daily living by perseverating over something we can’t control anyway. This can bring a lot of stress—and emotional distance—to any relationship.
• Do whatever you can to tend to the small moments. In past “Shrink Raps,” you’ve read about mindfulness, about being present to yourself and others. Being coupled can offer very fertile ground for this very quality. Are you treating the small relationship moments with attention and respect? When you’re reading the newspaper, and your partner has something to express, do you half-listen, mostly trying to give the message that you’re busy right now? Or do you make room for the brief, occasional interruption that is actually a chance to bond, to validate, to learn something more about each other?
• Do not sacrifice your relationship for kids, eldercare or work. Each of these is vitally important. Each gives your life a sense of purpose, balance and the responsibility/opportunity/grace of tending to loved ones. And while putting your relationship first, even over the kids’ needs, may be a challenging concept to some, if you’re not happy as a couple, and you don’t nurture that relationship, how can you be effective and loving child-rearers? Further, kids who grow up witnessing their parents’ love for each other, and seeing their parents honor and prioritize their union teaches them the importance of later choosing a partner who loves, honors and prioritizes them.
• When all else fails, communicate! If you’re not a talker, you have to find a way to at least talk with this one person, your sig other. And I don’t mean just the facts. It’s important to learn to express feelings. If this makes you squirm, know this: Discussing feelings with your partner lets him or her know not just how you feel, but creates a safe environment for a healthy exchange of feelings about other topics as well. It deepens your bond and sends the message that you really want to know your partner, and you, too, are available to know.
So there’s our February: heart, history, love. Now as for Betty Lou’s birthday…well, she’ll have to make do with her usual pamperings, lick-a-thons with her new best pal/adopted sister, and the delights to be found in a box of dark chocolate. Wait—dogs can’t have chocolate. Oh, what to do with that big, red, heart-shaped box? It’s already been opened, you say...?
Until next time: “Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself.”
— Paul Coelho