The flowers, the cards, the hype, the expectations… As a culture, we’ve put so much pressure on February 14 and the particular - and even peculiar - ways this holiday celebrates love.
Today, we turn to one person to provide what an entire village once did: a sense of grounding, meaning, and continuity. At the same time, we expect our committed relationships to be romantic as well as emotionally and sexually fulfilling. Is it any wonder that so many relationships crumble under the weight of it all?
Sure, Valentine’s Day bashing may be as much of a tradition as the chocolate covered strawberries these days, but Perel’s wisdom shows us that this intense focus on a certain form of modern romantic love sets so many couples up for disappointment and even failure. And it’s not just about February. This candy heart version of love has lingering effects, convincing so many that this over-the-top display of passion and singular devotion is the ideal.
Courtship isn’t meant to last, coupleship is
A friend of mine was telling me the story of a long ago Valentine’s Day when her then-boyfriend surprised her with a bouquet, or perhaps you might call it a sculpture, of roses. They’d seen a greeting card with a yin yang symbol made of flowers. She’d loved it. He hadn’t forgotten. She was amazed by his grand gesture and he became a florist’s favorite customer that year. The photo of that unforgettable bouquet became the save the date card for their wedding a year later.
Now, well over a decade has passed and they laugh about his extravagance as they spend Valentine’s Day in the midst of the typical family routine. The flowers in the small vase on the counter are a mix that’s heavy on the carnations.
They talk about “courtship” as a sort of code and smile about the way it used to be… Courtship refers to all the things she and her husband used to do for one another. Once upon a time, she watched a lot more football and he visited a lot more metaphysical bookshops. They went to extraordinary lengths to show up for each other’s passions. And they probably even pretended to be interested when they would have been happier in their own realms.
These days, he doesn’t have much time to watch the games and she doesn’t get to read nearly as much as she likes. Making room for their own passions is hard enough, and making room for one another’s can seem nearly impossible. They’re focused on their daughter, their careers, their aging parents…
Together, they’ve moved from that period of courtship into what I call “coupleship.” The emphasis is on the practical and the logistical much of the time and, though they work to keep aspects of the sweetness, the surprise, and the passion that marked their early days together, they measure the success of their relationship in new ways.
If you’re in a long term relationship, make Valentine’s Day about Coupleship Rather than Courtship
Did you have a chance to explore the 18 questions I offered in my Coupleship Year in Review article? All of them are relevant at any point in the year, but I’d love to invite you two to sit with these six questions in particular. I think they’ll help you root into a more authentic, enduring definition of love and relationship that will last longer than any bouquet, no matter how thoughtfully chosen.
Coupleship depends on the well-being of both partners. Your needs as individuals need to be met in order for you to show up fully for one another...
- Do you support your partner’s development as an individual? How? Give examples. Do you support his/her desires even when you don’t agree?
- What do you each need as individuals in the year to come? How will you contribute to partner’s development as an individual in 2018?
Coupleship depends on community. Your relationship with each other is always influenced by your relationship to others...
- What 5 people did you most enjoy spending time with as a couple?
- How did your relationship to your extended family / in-law family evolve?
Coupleship is about how you show love, not just how you talk and think about love. What you do - for yourselves and for each other - that’s what really matters...
- Which habits do you want to change, cultivate or get rid of – to enhance your coupleshipin 2018?
- Of the following verbs, which one are you most comfortable with, and which would you like to stretch a bit further within your relationship? (Think about these both inside and outside the bedroom!)
To Ask | To Take | To Give | To Receive | To Refuse
These questions are so important to ask, but it can be hard to make the time and space to dig in together and get vulnerable with your answers. Couples therapy can help you have these conversations and work out what “coupleship” means for you.
While not at the therapy office, Susan spends her time working within her own coupleship of seventeen years.
Susan works with Type A’s ---> Creatives as they balance schedules, stress, and the modern challenges of coupleship. Specializing in counseling for individuals and couples using Stan Tatkin’s PACT approach, Susan helps you move through the muck of life and into a life of INTENTION, purpose, and connection.