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  • Beyond the Box: The Gift of Emotional Connection on Valentine’s Day

    Valentine’s Day, often criticized as a commercialized holiday, holds different meanings and expectations for many couples. For some, it may involve extravagant gifts, flowers, boxes of chocolates, or a romantic dinner. These are great ways to express love for our spouse. However, there is something else. The true gift that keeps a marriage thriving over the long haul can’t be wrapped or paid for. It is the intangible yet invaluable presence of emotional connection. 

    Emotions are powerful, and how we deal with them is critical in our relationships. 

    Emotions signal that we have a desire or need. Couples need help with being open and communicating. As a result, they find themselves in a cycle of hurtful arguing and disconnectedness. Why? Because it is safer to express anger with our spouse than to express our actual needs. Renowned relationship researcher John Gottman highlights four detrimental behaviors that sabotage emotional connectedness. They are called the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and include criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. First, criticism is when you attack your partner’s character. “You always or you never.” Second is contempt, which includes insults, rolling your eyes, or acting superior. Next is defensiveness, an effort to protect ourselves and go defensive by blaming our partner or not taking responsibility. Last, stonewalling is when one spouse stops responding to the other by shutting down. These interactions only fuel the cycle of disconnection.

    Authentic emotional connection is built on acknowledging and sharing true feelings and replacing destructive behaviors with constructive dialogue. It may sound like this: “I’m feeling really overwhelmed; can you help me with a few things? “I’m feeling disconnected and miss you, and I would love to spend some time together.” “I’m feeling anxious. Can we talk more about this?” “I am sorry I was short-tempered with you this morning. I was nervous about the presentation I had to do at work.” 

    True emotional connection requires vulnerability. Opening up and being honest about our feelings, fears, and vulnerabilities fosters trust. This can be difficult if we stuff or ignore our own emotions. The only way to interrupt the negative cycle of disconnection is to understand our own needs and hurts before attempting to support our spouse. Then, we can navigate challenges together.  

    Take away. Express love this Valentine’s Day with flowers, gifts, chocolates, romantic dinners, and what you love to do. However, don’t overlook giving the unwrapped gift and celebrate your love by prioritizing some authentic emotional connection. Happy Valentine’s Day!

    Written by Malisa Funderburk, MA