Every year for the past five, I have looked forward to writing a Valentine’s Day post. In these posts I’ve praised an unexpected, intrinsic gift of love (read: non-materialistic) trying not to be too quirky or too preachy (the former being my strength, the latter, my weakness). One post was about how to not treat your partner worse than an alien, another how to not treat your partner like a lion attacking you (what?), and most recently one about how to fall in love all over again with the same person. I love writing about love and try to do so with decently good humor and (arguably excessive) heart-felt sincerity.
But this year was tough. This year is not like any other year. If you’ve kept reading past the title of this post, you know what I mean. As February approached, I struggled. How can we talk about love in the midst of such profound, escalating chaos and suffering? Joy, laughter, play, pleasure, sex, intimacy: Can we really focus on these things… now?
The answer that my loving husband of 32 years pointed out (after kissing me like that on a now typical night where there was so much distressing news that I thought, you’re kissing me like that, now; really?) is another question: How can we really not focus on these things…now?
Yes, while it would seem with all the urgent calls to make, emails to send to lawmakers, protests to attend, shock to rebound from, and heartbreaking stories to process now, that love and relationships should be pushed to the sidelines, appropriately neglected or even dismissed for the moment as the domain of the frivolous or selfish. No time for love, there’s a war going on.
Nothing could be farther from the truth.
This is a call to action of a different sort. We must keep love going. It is our stability. “Love is for the world what the sun is for external life,” said philosopher Rudolph Steiner. (I told you I like to preach.) It is a priority to keep availing ourselves of that life-force, by its transformative power tending and nurturing the world in the process. While so many things are unrecognizably different in our lives in these challenging times, what endures is our need for love. This is a year of cultivating and preserving love now more than ever.
With so many in need and so many at risk, we need to put the oxygen masks on our relationships first. For if we run out of steam—and this is clearly is a marathon, not a sprint—where does that leave all of us?
Even in a crisis, even in an emergency, we work in shifts. Some of us always need to be on love duty. You can be love satellites, and know that others are holding down the other fort, protesting, organizing, making calls, so that when you are ready, you too will jump back into the fray, revitalized.
Here are eight ways to safeguard and promote your love—and your love for the world—this Valentine’s Day and beyond.
Love is your shelter, protect it from hostility. All couples build their communal home together: your escape, your respite, your sanctuary. We bring everything home. The helplessness we feel in the face of growing hostility and injustice—we bring that home, too. When the source of your anger feels unreachable and beyond your control, you may direct your feelings instead at each other in snitty or sniping ways. Commit to making your home kind. We like kind. A lot. Be generous: Rather than reacting with frustration to the frustrated words on the surface, recognize the true source and give your partner another chance to “try that one again,” or “restate that please”. Kindness is usually there—it may be hiding. And the wonderful thing is that you know where it’s hidden better than anyone else.
Listen to each other Our attention is constantly divided, half listening to our partners and half thinking about the news feed, even when we put down our phones. Also—we ourselves likely do not feel our votes, or our voices are heard. Make home different. Listen with closest attention to what your partner is saying—and amplify the significance of their words by reflecting them back. Take a quick trip back to love’s first blush, when you hung on each other’s words. Remember that? You loved listening to your partner’s voice. Renew your curiosity and fascination with active listening. Repeat daily.
Gratitude is a great healer Rather than feeling frustrated with all that’s wrong around you, take stock of the all the gifts you have right in front of you starting with your partner (and yes, if you need any help getting right to the heart of the matter, do the very hard and sad thing and imagine what life would be like if your partner weren’t there.) Do this exercise in your head if you like, but why stop there? Sharing your gratitude multiplies the good and the love. You will feel better instantly and bring in the mood of adoring your partner. And, for quicker results, just say thank you. Everyone loves that.
Novelty increases connection. Often we cope with feeling overwhelmed or distraught by shutting down and disconnecting. What do you want to do? Nothing. What do you want to do? I don’t care. Borrow energy by committing to do something new each week—whatever and wherever that may be—explore the new that is hidden in plain sight around you—with each other, with your surroundings—a new restaurant, museum, musician, poet, a new route home, a new part of town, learn a new skill together, volunteer, go to a protest, try something new in the kitchen, or elsewhere…Research shows this makes for happier couples; it will give each of you a neurological and psychological boost, and together you are adding entries to the collective story of your relationship. Anything different counts. Don’t spend time waiting to get motivated to try something new—throw yourselves into it, the reward and the motivation will follow.
Anxiety is love’s greatest killer. So says Anais Nin. We could spiral into panic with escalating worst-case scenarios, but that keeps us from spending the quality time together that restores us and makes us meaningful actors in the world. Fact-check your anxiety, not just your politicians. Set limits on talking about what’s going on in the world. Make a curfew for no news talk after 9 p.m., schedule appointments to talk about world events so these conversations are circumscribed and don’t spill over into your every waking hour. Thriving together in these times is about having productive conversations (not just unending ones) that result in meaningful action—or sleep—and ultimately more love.
Buffer yourself from pessimism—go back to the beginning. Pessimism means not seeing the possibility for growth or hope in the future; don’t let that mindset inhibit—or inhabit—your relationship. There will be good days and bad, it is easy to get discouraged and let that negative outlook spill over into the most cherished aspects of life. To counter the pessimism, go full-on sentimental: treat each other to telling and retelling the adventures and poignant struggles just the two of you have shared—starting with the very beginning when you met. Celebrate how far you’ve come and see that all that growth is contagious; it’s delightful, and has momentum.
Sex is good for you. I know, I know, enough said, but it might not be our first thought in these times. Aside from the obvious, there are additional benefits. How do we undo the fight or flight program that gets activated repeatedly in response to the news? Sex rights your body, releases feel-good hormones, gives the all-clear signal, and resets your internal program from threat to safety, lighting up pleasure pathways all the while. So go ahead … make love, not war, well, you know what to do.
Bookend your days with connection. Imagine if each day begins and ends with something beautiful, soulful, and meaningful that you do together. Read a haiku, join each other in a few yoga stretches, lose yourselves in a gratitude swap, look at family photographs, or even just check out the latest from SNL or Andy Borowitz. Rather than awakening to find yourselves treading water in the onslaught of life’s new currents, or having those rough waters follow you into your dreams at night, take charge of the life you create together. You decide how you want to punctuate your days. You are not going against the tide—you are the tide, together.
So, there you go, fellow travelers, here are the ideas that I and my husband, Phillip Stern, who did a little more contributing than just editing this time, would like to share. Please tend to your relationships, we all need each other to thrive. Wishing you a Happy Valentine's Day, and beyond. Together we persist.
© 2017, Tamar Chansky, Ph.D.