We think of Valentine’s Day as a fun Hallmark day: chocolate boxed candy, surprise spray of flowers, cozy dinner for two, side-ways flutter of glances, a romp under the bed sheets… I’m all for fun and firmly believe that play of some kind should be part of our daily diet. However, I’d like to take the opportunity of Valentine’s Day to remind us all of the seriousness of love. Every time I see a couple for a divorce mediation, and most especially if they’ve young kids, a little bleep in my heart reminds me that the divorce rate in the US hovers at 50%... So love is, or should be, taken seriously.
Background: Who was Valentine? The story of Valentine started off as a serious matter. In fact, a matter of life and death. History reveals that the Catholic Church denotes three different martyred saints named “Valentine” or “Valentinus”. The most popular narrative occurred in Rome’s third century AD under the rule of Emperor Claudius. He proclaimed an edict that prohibited young people from marrying. This was based on the hypothesis that unmarried soldiers fought better than married soldiers because married soldiers might be afraid of what might happen to them or their wives or families if they died.
At the time, a Roman priest named Valentine supported the Church’s strong encouragement for young people to marry, and to marry within the Church’s belief that a man and a woman marry for life. Because of Emperor Claudius’ edict, Priest Valentine had to marry his couples in secret. [Some sources also note that an important piece of context was that polygamy was common.]
One day, Valentine was caught. He was imprisoned and tortured for performing secret marriage ceremonies counter to the edict. As the story goes, a man named Asterius was among those who were to judge Valentine’s crime. He had a blind daughter. Valentine was supposed to have prayed with and healed this young girl with such astonishing effect that Asterius himself became Christian as a result.
In the year 269 AD, Valentine was sentenced to a three part execution of a beating, stoning, and finally decapitation because he stood by his Christian principle that marriage was a sacred union between a man and a woman. Before his death, he is said to have written his last words in a note to Asterius' daughter, signing it "from your Valentine."
Sainted for a Principle. Valentine gave his life for a principle of the Church. It was a life and death matter to choose to be a Christian in third century AD Rome. It took several centuries until the Middle Ages, when Saint Valentine’s Day was associated with love, romance, and devotion and with “Valentines” exchanged among lovers and friends, mostly in England and France. Saint Valentine’s Day started on its road to Hallmark Heaven in the 1880’s when the American Esther A. Howland [“Mother of the Valentine”] supposedly was the first to sell mass-produced Valentines, elaborate creations with real lace, ribbons, and colorful pictures.
I’m all for the fluff and fun, as I’ve said. But this blog underlines the seriousness of love too. Holding onto your love principles may not be a matter of life and death, as with Valentine [hope not!]. I suggest here that knowing and holding your principles may contribute to a foundation of lifelong love.
Love Principles. In your special relationship, you may have and live by your own love principles. Here I’m offering you my love principles, integrated from my 30+ years in clinical psychology practice and culled from the writings of some very thoughtful psychological thinkers.
1- Your Relationship comes First above all other relationships. What’s good for you is good for your partner. You have each other’s back. You collaborate with one another for the sake of you both, no matter who’s “right”.
2- Feel safe with one another. When feeling threatened, we naturally become defensive, and this is how fights start. Feeling safe is the goal of putting the Relationship First and the one special person to one another.
3- Read each other. Know what each other is feeling just by looking into each other’s eyes. Be an expert on the other. Being sensitive, empathic, and responsive to the other’s needs will mean you accept the principle that it feels both vulnerable and intimate to be known and to know your partner.
4- Accept multiple perspectives. This may mean tolerating ambiguity. Making meaning, and intimacy, together includes taking a perspective other than your own. See and keep your emotional boundaries between you and your partner. Includes tolerating the other person’s separate reality [realities], which may differ from yours. This is a crucial dialectic, even seemingly a contradiction: how to be separate individuals while simultaneously staying emotionally connected by putting the Relationship First. There is a delicate balance between independence and dependence.
5- Regulate your own emotions, and help your partner do the same, within the imperfect realities of your lives. This means mourning the idealized unattainable parts [aspects] of yourself & your partner. We loose aspects of ourselves as we grow & change [esp. with age, we loose good looks, our body changes, our cognition changes ….] Resources shift [emotional, financial]. This includes accepting fallible [non-idealized] aspects of one another.
6- Seek true mutuality through justice and fairness. This means giving up perfection, giving up who’s right, giving up black and white thinking. True mutuality is nourished by your abilities to repair conflict quickly by careful use of apology and forgiveness.
Six love principles. One for each day of the week. And you can rest on the seventh day! Though seriously, I hope play, and rest too, is built into your daily interactions, not just on Valentine’s Day. “You’re mine!” every day!