<img class="alignright size-large wp-image-42108" title="Girard = love” src=”http://womensvoicesforchange.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/Girard-love-215×200.jpg” alt=”” width=”215″ height=”200″ />Thanksgiving is a time for reflection and gratitude for life’s gifts. New Year’s Day calls for resolutions. And February? Celebrating Valentine’s Day could inspire us to reflect on, renew, and expand our circle of friends and our support network. Research indicates that having strong ties to others is healthy in countless ways. Indeed, having strong connections—romantic and otherwise—contributes, more than any other factor, to our overall happiness.

Romance: The Tale of the Clueless Male

For those in romantic relationships, this “holiday” can be lovely, but it can also provoke: The high expectations it generates can disappoint, as expectations are wont to do on other “special days.”

Men can be pretty clueless sometimes when it comes to understanding what will please a woman. But it can help to think of this as a boat we women are all in together: It’s pretty crowded. Don’t sink the relationship over small details; I remember one woman who considered breaking up with a man she was dating because of the kind of flowers he brought her (carnations) on Valentine’s Day. It’s important to understand that men often don’t realize the significance to us of certain specific gestures; they don’t always know the way to act; and they cannot read minds. Much as most of us appreciate something spontaneous and romantic, if you really want to get what you need from your partner there’s nothing wrong with telling him what it is (including actively reminding him that Valentine’s Day is coming up). If you think about it, it seems that many problems in romantic relationships stem from expectations that the other is not aware of. The concept “If someone really loves you, he should know what you want” is overvalued.

Nevertheless, the core of strong relationships does rest on empathy and compassion, and well-thought-out gifts and gestures can be a part of that. That includes, however, empathizing with your partner’s point of view and his capacity to give you what you need.

Furthermore, since psychologists have found that giving does truly bring people more happiness than receiving, Valentine’s Day is a good time for you to show your appreciation of your partner in a way that is meaningful to him. His way of celebrating could possibly be far afield from the way couples traditionally celebrate this occasion. What would he like to do on a special day? Men often characterize “intimacy” as doing something together, rather than intimate talking, as women do

Nancy Etcoff, a psychologist at Harvard Medical School, notes that happy marriages are based on a ratio of five positive interactions/comments to one negative one. Anything that can be done (within the limits of reason and sincerity) to keep those numbers on the plus side is a good investment. Furthermore, researchers have found that positive interactions have a ripple effect and are likely to increase loving gestures in return. (A recent article in The New York Times called this emotional reciprocity “The Generous Marriage.”) Many women resent the fact that they have to do most of the “work” of proactive positivity, but one of the worst things you can do, as we all know, is to “keep score.”

Family: The Pleasures of Proactivity

Proactivity is also likely to help you get closer to your family. Staying in touch, small gestures of appreciation, remembering to ask about their interests, finding ways to do things together are obvious moves you make. This can work, even with the crankiest of adolescents, if you don’t expect too much in return (maybe not right away, but the rewards can often be seen later). When my daughter first went away to school I thought sending frequent postcards and packages might help ease the transition. Though at first she said it was “embarrassing,” she admitted that she missed them when I cut back. Sometimes family members need things they don’t realize they want.

For example, I know a woman who, though she had an ambivalent relationship with her aging mother, made up her mind to speak to her (briefly) every day. Despite the fact that she had plenty of reasons to be angry about her mother’s poor nurturing skills when she was a child, this constant connection led to an important rapprochement and allowed the daughter to have a more positive relationship with her mother in her last years.

Friends: There’s No Excuse for Not Staying in Touch

Staying in touch is easier than ever. Skye, email, cellphones, etc., have made it so easy that there’s no excuse not to be in contact with your friends, old and new. Though some people feel deluged with emails and Facebook requests, it can be surprisingly rewarding to be in contact with a large “online” community. From the 1950s on, sociologists have despaired about the isolation and loneliness that our increasingly mobile society has engendered. Stephanie Broadbent, a therapist who studies the effects of the Internet, hails it as an “enabler of intimacy”; she notes that wide use of the Internet has sparked an important positive transformation. We need only look to the role that social media, such as Twitter, played in the “Arab Spring” to acknowledge its power.

Spring Awakening

You can engineer your own spring by sowing the seeds of love and friendship now. If you have a partner, try to make more of your days Valentine’s Days: days of positive moments, rather than Groundhog’s Days (the same moments, over and over). If you are looking for someone, you must do something, or it won’t happen: Do something to stir the waters or try a new approach.

Even if you are content without a romantic relationship, it’s important to stay connected with the people you love. Make a resolution to repair, reach out, and re-energize your social connections now, and for the rest of the year you’ll be the better for it.


Start the conversation

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.