Ashley Madison founder, Noel Biderman once told me that the biggest day of his year is the day after Valentines day. More women sign up to cheat on their marriages on this day than any other, which is no small thing coming from a guy whose website generates $25K every hour of every average day. The Valentines effect is so potent and inspires so many break ups because the holiday shines a light of authentic, genuine connection that makes our disappointment and frustration in our lovers inescapable. Mind you, those feelings are often percolating for months, or even years, but it is not uncommon for cultural celebrations of love (Christmas and Mother’s Day are not far behind) to clarify and maybe even exaggerate what is broken between us. Many might argue that the Hallmarked and arguably unrealistic expectations for a single day to capture what needs to be done all the time doesn’t help. But the truth is that we all long for a gesture- a perfect gift or carefully penned card to heal the rifts that live between us; for all the many ways our acts of love go unappreciated, unrecognized or worse still unreciprocated day after day.
The other day I was on a plane, one of too many recently, when a woman in front of me spoke rudely to the man next to her, telling him where to go sit and then looked up at me and said, “I can tell him where to go, he is my husband…” I looked back at her and said, “That should make you kind to him.” She didn’t take it well. This is one of the most ridiculously common misconceptions about marriage and indeed all long term intimate relationships that is the seed of many demised relationships on Valentine’s Day.
Maybe we grew up seeing it, or maybe we see it too often on sitcoms, but the idea that being close to someone gives us the right to speak to them heartlessly floors me. Many of us would not speak to a perfect stranger with the tone we take with the person we promised to lovein front of everyone we know. This hardness and disrespect shreds the fabric of commitment between us with each small act. John Gottman, the renowned author and marriage counselor claimed that he could within minutes of witnessing a couple’s conversational quality predict with amazing accuracy the likelihood of their unions duration.
Contempt was the singular quality that predicted the union’s demise amongst thousands of couples studied. Contempt is an odd confluence of unexpressed emotions and rumination on negative thoughts. It solidifies our judgments, coating them with anger and leaves no room for seeing the person you love with new eyes or listening as if you don’t know. We lose sight of the ever changing nature of the person we are with and become comfortably stuck in the unforgiving light of past wrongs and negative expectations about what could change.
It is a dead end. Yet one that catches people by surprise every February 15th. Its weird how we become comfortable with our discomfort until something cracks and then you are gone. So rejuvenate your relationship with a gentle tone, genuine curiosity about who you are with and the same respect you would give to the receptionist at the doctor’s office. Appreciating the smallest gestures of care and attention only takes a moment and the recognition that you are being loved. Truly, we can’t say thank you enough for the millions of ways that we have to show up for each other to keep it going.