Love is in the air on Valentine's Day. Children look forward to the exchange of cards and candy at school. Who doesn't remember some of the excited whispers about the message from that special someone, even if on one of those mass produced punch-out cards from the boxed sets. Family and special friends are recognized, usually with a card or box of candy. Spouses or those in a romantic relationship may also enjoy a bouquet of flowers and a special dinner. No one pretends that Valentine's Day is not also a big commercial venture, which is humorously evident in advertisements and stores with people often frantically looking for something at the last minute. Even so, the effort and act of giving is a symbol of affection to let loved ones know they are important.
Like so many holidays, Valentine's Day has both religious and pagan roots. One or possibly two to three Catholic priests were named Valentine, all of whom were martyred in Roman times. One account is of a priest in the third century who continued to perform marriages even when outlawed by the emperor. Another account is about one of the Valentine priests helping Christians escape the persecution of Romans and was imprisoned himself. Whatever the case, St. Valentine was one of the most popular saints from early days and Feb. 14 was declared his day by the pope of the Catholic Church, perhaps chosen to mark the anniversary of Valentine's death which was most likely by beheading. Some say that the date may have been chosen to coincide with or counter the pagan practices of the time which were related to fertility gods. Either way, the day became one associated with couples in love and happy marriages.
One woman acquaintance once remarked that she would prefer nothing on Valentine's Day or Mother's Day if it meant that family members would just do what mattered on all the other days of the year. Her sentiment is really the key to successful relationships; that it is the little things that we do every day for each other that truly shows love and creates lasting bonds. Some have described this end result as a beautiful string of pearls, created over time through many small acts of kindness and affection. So what keeps the love alive? Certainly no one embarks with the goal of breaking up or getting divorced. Magazines often sell gimmicky ideas, but it turns out that it is the time tested and common sense values from "yesterdays" that achieve positive results. It's all about love that is synonymous with work, the other four-letter word that requires daily discipline and giving of ourselves.
Photos by Jeff Wawro
The love and excitement at the time of marriage can deepen over time.
One of the first realities to accept in a marriage is that there will be challenges. Bills come and disagreements are common, but that is normal. It should be no surprise that mutual respect is one critical component to work through such struggles and day to day life. "Cornerstones of a Happy Home," published in 1984, suggests four practices. Respect is the understanding that partners have differences and that both should encourage the other to develop his or her talents and reach toward achieving dreams. Stop looking for faults and look for virtues. Each partner should live worthy of the respect of one another and have "an anxious concern for the comfort and well-being of one's companion." The second practice or cornerstone is to have a "soft answer" when discussing interests, problems, life's challenges, and desires. "Quiet talk is the language of love and peace." Certainly no one is perfect, but sage advice as stated in Proverbs, the discipline of such "turneth away wrath, but grievous words stir up anger." The third attribute is financial honesty. Extravagant spending can jeopardize a marriage. Partners need to counsel together, meet obligations, and be united in monetary decisions. The last cornerstone is couple prayer. The act of humbling and opening oneself before a higher source in both gratitude and for guidance brings a sense of peace and bonding.
Keeping marriage and love alive in other common sense terms is well stated by J. Gottman in "The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work." Falling under the same umbrella of respect is to really know each other's likes, dislikes, hopes, feelings and dreams. Again, as a general rule, focus on the positive and good times. Couples should talk with each other and interact. They need to share in decision making. They also need to share some basic common values, interests, and traditions, which might be interpreted as a secular version of "couple prayer." The sky's the limit on what these habits may be, but more than likely they are the little things done day in and day out. It could be as simple as small gestures including random little notes of appreciation, fixing a favorite meal, and just spending time together, even with what might seem like the mundane. Much of it is similar to what we think of with good friends. A partner needs to be the best of friends.
Conflict of course is part of any relationship. Some issues may never be resolved. Good friends and partners learn to accept this and don't let these overshadow everything else. Fights and anger are also normal. In fact, Gottman found that happy couples get angry as much as unhappy couples, but what makes the difference is how people react during those times and how destructive they get. "Cornerstones of a Happy Home" summarizes it best with, "Life is like an old-time rail journey with delays, sidetracks, smoke, dust, cinders, and jolts interspersed only occasionally by beautiful vistas and thrilling bursts of speed. The trick is to thank the Lord for letting you have the ride. Enjoy the journey, traveling hand in hand in sunshine and storm, as companions who love one another." When blessed with children, marriage is also about one of the greatest gifts that can be given, which is for the father to love the mother and the mother to love the father, both honoring each other in thought, word and deed.
Make it a good week and remember your sweet loved ones this Valentine's Day. As a side note, it appears that St. Valentine is also the patron saint of beekeepers, probably for the sweetness of honey. Thanks for reading, Mary
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