There’s no avoiding it . . . heart-shaped boxes of chocolates, a sea of red and pink greeting cards, ads for diamond jewelry and tents of roses are assaulting us at every turn.

To those newly in love, Valentine’s Day is a day full of sweetness and romance.  For long-term, stable couples it’s usually a pleasant but perfunctory gesture.  But for those in struggling relationships, it is a painful reminder of what is no longer.

For couples not exactly “feeling it” but not ready to throw in the towel, searching for the right Valentine card is overwhelming.  Mushy cards are out.  Humorous cards mock your struggles.   Blank cards to write your own loving sentiment make your stomach tie up in knots.  ”Forgetting” to get a card will feel like a slap in the face.

I read an article by a so-called marriage expert on how to handle the Valentine’s day-struggling-couples issue.  The author suggested finding the right card that doesn’t gush but says I love you and giving a token of that love, such as chocolate truffles.  He said you know your partner well, so get exactly the right thing that will remind them of the love you once shared.  Oh and one more thing, put aside your feelings about how your partner handles cards and gifts . . . after all this is the day to express YOUR love.

The problem with advice like this is that is suggesting that avoidance is the route to coping with loss of romance and passion.  It implies that a token can transmit your deeper thoughts and feelings, that you don’t need to communicate your wants and needs because you and your partner are so connected that you will select the right gift  to tug at their heartstrings.

Okay, maybe if you are from a Vulcan blood line you can do the whole mind meld thing and words are not necessary.  But most of us are just regular humans, so if friendship, passion and romance are fading, the token gesture will fall flat and the kids or co-workers will get the truffles and your partner will not be moved.

Let’s be honest, what struggling couples really want is their friendship back, because it is through friendship that the flames of passion and romance are re-ignited.   They want to be heard, understood, appreciated and emotionally connected to their partner.  They want the fights and negativity to end.  They crave physical affection.

So if you are struggling, try reaching out to your partner and saying “Valentine’s Day is hard for me. It reminds me of how we used to be.  All I really want is to feel connected to you again.  Would you be willing to work on that?”

Sure, it feels risky to make yourself vulnerable and ask your partner to work on things.  But doing nothing means that the relationship will continue to erode . . . and that’s not what you really want.

Mary Beth George, MEd, LPC

Certified Gottman Method Couples Therapist