Why Valentine's Day is good for your relationship

Celebrating as a path to sexual and romantic relationship success

Written by Kristen Mark, PhD, MPH

Two close friends of mine, who also happen to be one of my favorite couples, make a super strong effort to celebrate whenever they get the chance. This can be anything from celebrating the anniversary of their first date to celebrating even the smallest work victories. And holidays like Valentine’s Day, birthdays, or anniversaries never slide by without fanfare. At first, I thought this seemed like overkill. But I quickly learned that it wasn’t overkill at all; it was strategic. And a strategic celebration of one another and the life built together is a crucial component of a happy sexual and romantic life. The science supports this. 

Great sex lives and relationships don’t just happen; they are built based on the amount of effort and work we put into them. Below I outline some of the ways celebrating is a path toward sexual and relational success.  

Celebrating is an opportunity for quality time 

For people whose love language is quality time, this can be a really important one. By acknowledging things like Valentine’s Day or anniversaries, there is typically time set aside to enjoy a meal together, do an activity together, and there’s nothing wrong with scheduling in some sex too! Quality time gets harder to come by as lives become busier, but making time for the relationship, prioritizing sex, and spending quality time together is important for relationship maintenance and satisfaction.  

Celebrating cultivates empathetic joy

Our ability to recognize opportunities for celebration communicates to our partner that we respect their successes and take their successes on as our own. Research on cultivating empathetic joy in relationships has shown that the way we respond to success matters. If we celebrate success, we are responding using what’s called active constructive response. Typically, when something good happens, you might hear “that’s great!” or “congratulations!” and that’s the end of it. That’s a passive constructive response. By taking time to actually celebrate the success, you move from passive constructive to active constructive and this is where the cultivation of empathetic joy begins. Research has shown that we should use moments for celebration as an opportunity to strengthen the relationship. And this is likely to translate into the bedroom. By cultivating empathetic joy within your relationship, you’re likely to cultivate positive feelings toward your partner that will fuel sexual satisfaction and desire deep into long-term relationships.

Celebrating is an opportunity for gratitude 

Celebrations give you time to reflect upon things to be grateful for. It sets aside a dedicated moment to feel and express that gratitude. Benefits of gratitude generally and in the context of relationships have been well-documented. Showing your partner gratitude has been shown to strengthen romantic relationships and improve connection and satisfaction. Expressing gratitude can also improve several positive emotions that are associated with happy relationships such as pride, hope, and general contentment. Another way celebrating can garner feelings of gratitude is that it provides an opportunity to focus on the positive. When we celebrate even the little things, like a small win at work or getting to the end of a particularly tough week, we are placing focus on the positive qualities of our partner. Research has shown that by taking out the time to do this, we become more tuned into our partner’s needs and wishes through increases in relationship connection and satisfaction. This also translates to sex! Research demonstrates that the more a couple gives and receives gratitude in their relationship, the greater investment they place in their partner’s sexual pleasure and in fulfilling their partner’s sexual needs.

Celebrating demonstrates relationship investment 

Investment in a relationship can be demonstrated in big ways, such as getting engaged or married, having children, buying a home, but can also be demonstrated in the day-to-day ways you celebrate life together. When you invest in your relationship through celebrating the little things, they build up over time to create a solid base of appreciation for one another. Acknowledging that the little things matter is one way to communicate to a partner that you’re invested in growing the relationship. Exchange theories of relationships clearly point to the importance of ensuring benefits in a relationship outweigh costs to facilitate relational investment. Sexual cost-reward models have also replicated this, where we see that sexual rewards need to outweigh the costs to facilitate sexual satisfaction. By celebrating with your partner, you’re building up the reward side of the equation.  

Celebrating something like a first date anniversary or Valentine’s Day together is a celebration that happens to be marked on the calendar to remind one another that you care. Expanding beyond the holidays that are marked on our calendars can be a powerful way to meaningfully demonstrate love and facilitate a healthy sex life. There’s no question that some long-term relationships struggle with keeping things fresh. Using holidays (no matter how trite they may seem) and day-to-day successes (no matter how small they may seem) as opportunities to celebrate with one another will go a long way in facilitating sexual and relationship success.

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