Have a conversation about love languages and values.
Relationship therapist Layla Ashley says, “I would recommend bringing up the subject [of Valentine’s Day] in a conversation about traditions, values and love languages. It’s easier to talk about a sensitive subject before it happens rather than after you feel hurt. Start by asking your partner how they like to handle special holidays and anniversaries. And listen and understand before expressing your own preferences. Keep [the conversation] light and positive, and discuss what you like and love rather than telling horrible stories about past disappointments. You want to inspire your partner, not threaten them into submission.”
And if you’re not sure what your love languages are, marriage and family therapist Julie Ingenohl suggests researching them together.
“Unmet expectations equal disappointment, every damn time, and gifts are not the only way to give and receive love. According to Gary Chapman, author of The Five Love Languages, there are four [other love languages to consider]: acts of service, words of affirmation, physical touch, and quality time,” she says. “Planning your Valentine’s Day is a wonderful opportunity to have a discussion on which is your primary love language (there’s even an online quiz to figure that out) and talk about ways in which your partner already shows this.”
Be direct, but don’t take yourself too seriously.
You don’t need to slyly work Valentine’s Day plans into conversations, says Dr. Nancy Irwin, a clinical psychologist and primary therapist at Seasons in Malibu. “Ask very directly, but with a sense of humor or levity,” she says, offering an example: “‘So, [partner’s name], are you one of those people who wants an over-the-top celebration [for] Valentine’s Day, or do you prefer simple and authentic? Or [should we] boycott the whole damned thing?’”
Get specific: Share ideas and make a plan.
Let’s say you and your partner have decided on the general theme of what the two of you want to do–a big celebration, a casual night in, or anything in between. What would make you both happiest within that plan?
Taylor Mead, senior editor of Swoon, the Odyssey’s love and dating site, suggests brainstorming together:
“Give [your partner] a variety of options so they feel like it’s actually up for discussion and you’re not just telling them what [you want to do]. You might want to say something like, ‘We could try to get a reservation at that restaurant we’ve been wanting to try?’ Or ‘We’ve been wanting to go see that show, we could do that? I’m also happy with making dinner together at home and renting a movie.’”
Her advice for go-to Valentine’s gift for relationships of all stages is a shared experience. “It could be a concert you’ve both been wanting to go to, a comedy show you two have been dying to see, or a weekend getaway. For new couples, it takes the pressure off of ‘What are we, exactly?’ and puts the emphasis on the fact you enjoy spending time together. And for couples who’ve been together for a while, it gives you more quality time doing something new instead of going out to dinner for the 917 millionth time,” she says.