Valen­tine’s Day: Go big — or stay home?

How to cel­e­brate the Feb. 14 hol­i­day if you’ve been to­gether a month, 5 years or decades

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - FAMILY - By Ali­son Bowen [email protected]­bune.com

A brand-new cou­ple might feel pres­sure to overdo Valen­tine’s Day. Two part­ners to­gether for decades might skip the hol­i­day al­to­gether. Some­one in a five- or 10-year re­la­tion­ship might won­der if it’s silly to even ask for a card or ac­knowl­edg­ment.

How should cou­ples cel­e­brate Valen­tine’s Day who have been to­gether for not long at all, a good amount of time or a re­ally, re­ally long time?

Lynn Zak­eri, a ther­a­pist in Skokie, Ill., said some ad­vice ap­plies to all cou­ples — com­mu­ni­cate well, don’t be mad you didn’t get some­thing you didn’t ask for — but that cou­ples, no mat­ter the re­la­tion­ship’s time frame, can be think­ing of how to cel­e­brate the hol­i­day dif­fer­ently.

“Don’t set your part­ner up for fail­ure,” Zak­eri said. “If some­thing’s im­por­tant to you and you’re go­ing to be dis­ap­pointed if it doesn’t hap­pen, let them know.”

New cou­ples (less than a year). First, don’t worry about an ex­treme cel­e­bra­tion for a new cou­pling.

“Two weeks doesn’t mean you have to spend a lot of money, be­cause if you do spend a lot, you may over­whelm your part­ner,” said Katie Ziskind, a mar­riage ther­a­pist in Niantic, Conn.

A com­mon pot­hole with new cou­ples is the urge to make too lit­tle, or too big, of a deal about the hol­i­day. Some might want to go all-out.

“You’re set­ting a prece­dent,” Zak­eri cau­tioned. “If you’re go­ing out that first year and the next year you’re not, that leads to sec­ond-guess­ing. Are we still good? Are you not as into me?”

And oth­ers might wa­ter down their own wishes, not want­ing to seem needy or more into the other per­son.

“No­body wants to be seen that way, to be seen as, ‘I like you more than you like me. I need you more than you need me,’ ” Zak­eri said.

But there’s noth­ing wrong with some small hints. In fact, it’s bet­ter to de­liver those than an­tic­i­pate some­one know­ing what you want, es­pe­cially so early in a re­la­tion­ship. Try, “Hey, just FYI, I love get­ting flow­ers.”

Per­haps a sim­ple din­ner — that’s what Mike

Roberge and Lau­ren Sharp plan to do, af­ter dat­ing about three months. Sharp said she didn’t plan to bring up the hol­i­day, and Roberge said he hadn’t con­sid­ered plan­ning any­thing when it was still weeks away.

“Maybe since we’re pretty new, I didn’t want to ask, be­cause I didn’t want to seem pushy,” Sharp said. “If we didn’t do any­thing, I wouldn’t be up­set.”

Now that the hol­i­day is closer, Roberge said, “I prob­a­bly will plan to ask to take her out to din­ner.”

Been to­gether for a few years (five to 10 years). For cou­ples to­gether more than five years, this is where some might start to slack on Valen­tine’s Day. The im­por­tant thing is to talk about whether ei­ther of you wants to ac­knowl­edge the hol­i­day.

“If it’s im­por­tant to one of you, then you need to cel­e­brate it,” Zak­eri said. “It’s an ex­cuse to say, ‘I love you,’ and it’s an ex­cuse to say, ‘My life is bet­ter be­cause of you.’ ’’

When the ini­tial list of Valen­tine’s Day plans has been ex­hausted by years to­gether, that’s the per­fect time to check in. And per­haps by this point, life has got­ten busy — kids might be in the pic­ture, busier work sched­ules than the early days. All rea­sons it’s more im­por­tant to com­mu­ni­cate.

“Valen­tine’s Day is an ex­cuse to be nice to each other, tell the other per­son why you’re glad to be with them,” Zak­eri said. “It doesn’t have to be any­thing more ex­trav­a­gant than that, as long as you’re both on the same page.”

Ask the per­son if you’re cor­rectly an­tic­i­pat­ing needs or as­sump­tions, and how, or if, he or she would like to cel­e­brate.

Maybe you go to a restau­rant on a dif­fer­ent day to avoid the crowds or plan some­thing other than din­ner. But if one per­son wants to cel­e­brate, find some­thing that feels fun to­gether.

And don’t worry about di­rect and clear com­mu­ni­ca­tion ru­in­ing the ro­mance, or a sur­prise.

“Telling some­body you want a card doesn’t mean you ru­ined it, be­cause the card they pick out is awe­some,” Zak­eri said. “Telling some­one you want flow­ers is OK, be­cause maybe they’re go­ing to sur­prise you with the tim­ing of it.”

Per­haps it’s a time you are con­sid­er­ing bring­ing up a con­ver­sa­tion such as en­gage­ment or tak­ing the next step in your re­la­tion­ship.

Rabbi Shlomo Slatkin, who runs the Mar­riage Restora­tion Project in Pikesville, Md., with his wife, Rivka, sug­gests set­ting a time when you will have each other’s un­di­vided at­ten­tion. “You may also want to prompt the con­ver­sa­tion by let­ting your part­ner know you have some­thing se­ri­ous to talk about.”

Long-term cou­ples (10+ years): This is when Valen­tine’s Day can be for­got­ten or over­looked. Per­haps that’s be­cause both peo­ple truly do not care to cel­e­brate it, but the im­por­tant thing is to check.

Just as with a new cou­ple, com­mu­ni­ca­tion is key.

“Throw­ing the sug­ges­tion out there is vul­ner­a­ble in it­self,” Zak­eri said. “And then the part­ner’s job is to rec­og­nize that they’re tak­ing a risk ask­ing, even if you think it’s a bad idea.”

If you’re hav­ing trou­ble de­cid­ing what you’d like to do, ask your­self, How did you feel in the past? What did you en­joy that you’ve done to cel­e­brate in pre­vi­ous years?

Ther­a­pists say any ex­cuse to re­con­nect in a re­la­tion­ship is a good one. Use it as a chance to set up a trip to take to­gether, or sum­mon happy mem­o­ries.

The Slatkins sug­gest trav­el­ing to­gether, tak­ing a class to­gether or re­vis­it­ing a place where each of you has fond mem­o­ries.

As far as Zak­eri and her hus­band, Dar­ius, who have been mar­ried 20 years this sum­mer and met in kinder­garten, she’s al­ready bought cards in their tra­di­tion — one cute and funny, one sen­ti­men­tal and mushy. And she al­ready has a gift, but it’s a sur­prise.

CHRIS SWEDA/CHICAGO TRI­BUNE

Lynn and Dar­ius Zak­eri, of Skokie, have been mar­ried for nearly 20 years and plan to cel­e­brate with cards and pos­si­bly a gift or two.

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