Want to make sure you get Valentine’s Day right this year? You may want to skip the chocolate and flowers, according to a University of Florida relationship expert.
“There is a lot of pressure around Valentine’s Day to make a big romantic gesture, but that can actually lead to a lot of stress and may not even be something you or your partner wants,” said Victor Harris, associate professor in the UF/IFAS department of family, youth and community sciences.
Sometimes the greatest gift you can give is the gift of better communication, Harris said.
Harris leads the UF/IFAS SMART Couples program, which provides accessible online resources for individuals and couples looking to strengthen their relationships. On Feb. 18 from 6 to 9:15 p.m., SMART Couples will host “The Art of Effective Communication,” a live virtual event where couples can learn from relationship experts about improving communication and the health of their relationships.
“Think of it as a date night where you can learn more about yourself and your partner, but from the comfort of your own home,” Harris said.
Couples can register through the SMART Couples website, smartcouples.org. The cost is $15 per couple.
At the event and through the resources on the SMART Couples website, people can learn to communicate constructively—rather than destructively—about their feelings, wants and needs.
Every relationship has recurring issues, usually around money, parenting, health, control and commitment, Harris said. How we deal with them plays a big role in the success of relationships and marriages.
“When talking about issues, couples will often find themselves in a cycle of negativity. This cycle looks like criticism, defensiveness, contempt and even stonewalling that may lead to an all-out fight. Eventually, things calm down and couples make up, but the next time the issue comes up, the cycle starts up again.”
To interrupt the cycle of negativity, couples can learn how to counter each step of the cycle with one of the “five do’s” of constructive communication: calming down, speaking non-defensively, using specific complaints, validating each other and overlearning all these skills until they become second nature.
“At the end of the day, communicating with your partner is not about winning the argument but fostering your friendship, empathy and affection toward each other,” Harris said.
Can’t make it to the Feb. 18 event? SMART Couples has online courses offered in live and pre-recorded formats. The website also has free articles covering a range of topics, from dating to remarriage.