Valentine’s Day has come and gone … and what holiday could possibly be more triggering? For many, V-day elicits insecurity, unhelpful comparisons and general angst about the state of love in our lives.
It’s ironic that such an innocently conceived idea – a day to celebrate love – has become such a feast of self-criticism.
Reflections on Valentine’s Day therapy session
As I sat with my clients – both individuals and couples – on that day, I was struck by how much symbolism it contained for them as they talked about their relationship to love in their own lives. People in partnerships felt that the love they had didn’t measure up to a concept of what romantic love “should” feel or look like. People not in relationships expressed a sense of failure or inadequacy for lacking this apparent prerequisite for adult happiness and success.
It is certainly clear that we need closeness and connection with other human beings to feel whole. There is endless research showing how community, family, and romantic relationships have health benefits on the physical and emotional levels. But what is also apparent is that we often feel oppressed by an idea of what this type of intimacy should look like; what form it should take.
There is a widely accepted assumption that a monogamous, romantic relationship is the supreme (or only) way to fulfill all of these human needs. Well, I meet and work with plenty of folks who are not partnered – either as a lifestyle choice or because they haven’t found someone with whom they want to make this commitment. Or, perhaps they are separated after a long-term relationship. Some people discover over the course of their lives that the construct of marriage or long-term partnership just doesn’t fit them.
What strikes me is how much suffering is created by comparing what we’ve chosen (or what’s chosen us) to an assumed “right” way of doing things. As a couples therapist I understand and passionately support the hard work that goes into creating a lasting, loving partnership. But just as with all traditions, it is made stronger when the participants are consciously choosing to participate.
In the San Francisco Bay Area, we are fortunate to live in a time and region in which we have myriad options available for creating satisfying lives. We have increasing flexibility in how we meet our needs for love, companionship, connection, family, sex, cohabitation, co-parenting, and the experience of safety among friends. There is freedom in this, even if there is sometimes also overwhelm.
My hope is that we are able to lean more into this freedom to choose our own way, and away from the criticisms about whether our relationships are what we had imagined they’d be, or what we’ve come to believe they “should” be. The more space we can create to ask what we truly want, what feels authentic for us, and the more freedom we can allow ourselves to pursue this, the more fulfilled we will be in our relationships and our lives.
(Image credit: Celeste Li)
About the Author
Maya Johansson is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) who specializes in couples counseling and helping those in nontraditional relationships.
According to Maya, “I am not the stereotypical therapist who sits back and nods. I am engaged and curious about you and your process and will find your edge with you in a way that also feels safe and empathetic.”