Valentine's Day special: Relationship expert gives love advice

Feb 14, 2012

Despite the chocolates, roses, candle light dinners and other mushiness today will bring, sometimes not all is perfect in paradise.

Relationship expert Dr. Pepper Schwartz gave advice for all your relationship woes.

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Mow do you make it up to partner for being late on Valentines?

Any attempt at making something up is usually appreciated-- as long as it is sincere and not off-hand. Do something particularly nice- a special champagne or something that shows you know what your partner likes and you went out of your way to get it..

Somewhere along the lines, Valentine's Day became only for couples. Why let adulthood hijack friendship celebration day that we enjoyed as children? Today as in all days, we need to tell the folks in our lives we care and love them. Valentine's Day is not about lovers. It is a day to celebrate the many friendships we have and acknowledge the people in our lives. If I have any love advice, call someone and say Happy Valentine's Day. Make someone's day special and it will be special to you too.

I totally agree. I remember when I was single ( which happened now and then) I would give a dinner party for my friends and we would all toast how lucky we were to have one another-- as you say, there are many forms of love!

We're on the eighth month of a long-distance relationship and I haven't handled it well, admittedly, and neither has she. I resent her leaving a recently-signed lease with me to take a great scholarship offer at a PHD program she's always dreamed of. Those feelings of abandonment have been exacerbated by her prioritizing socializing (with guys 90% of the time) over maintaining the relationship.  I know she's stressed and needs to decompress, but I'm blown off to the point where she cancelled a Valentine's Day visit because I objected to her making plans with a guy friend for last night, the night I was supposed to leave and the night before VDay. Is it over or is there common ground we can still meet on?

It doesn't sound good.  You want to feel prioritized and she wants a certain amount of freedom. She is also making important choices about her future -and she definitely didn't handle the lease issue well. It seems to me that some heart to heart communication about feelings and "what is this thing we are doing"? kinds of questions are in order-- even if it's only to end it without hard feelings.  If she's not putting the time in- it is a message and it seems like you have been reluctant to get it- which is understandable when you love someone. But when she didn't keep every minute she could for you before you left-- well, I think you know what that means- and without great communication skills between you , I would say the future may be over. One last ditch attempt, by the way,might be just to "give each other space"- and see if she misses you - and you her- enough to try to repair this.

My brother's fiancee posted on his FB today, "If I had to choose between breathing and loving you, I'd save my last breath to say 'I Love You!'" They are both over 50. She also has been previously married. My question is: Can I buy those airline barf bags by the case?

I think people's emotion often feels sticky and overblown to an observer. But in this case it sounds like you find it particularly icky because they are over 50. I actually find it particularly touching.. who says you can't have passion and romance after 50. If you read 19th century poets, you''d find more of the same flowery sentiment-- but it looks good on them. Maybe it would be good for us if we didn't retch when we read the same sentiments in contemporary society.

Valentine's Day means different things to different people. Some think its overrated, commercialized, etc. Where do you stand? 

I love it. But only when I have a partner. When I have't   had one I have gone into high coping mode.. But in general, why shouldn't we have a holiday that celebrates love, that makes us take time out for our relationshp and that asks us to do just a little bit ( to a lot) more than we usually do to make each other feel great. Yes, I know its commercialized- but so are birthdays-- and I like those too. Come to think of it, I like almost any excuse to celebrate!

I'm 30 years old. My boyfriend is using cannabis for years and I hate this. I'm really annoyed to see him stoned. We have been dating for three years at first I didn't care about this a lot because we only met two or three days a week but now as things are getting serious this horrifies me. I don't want to live with someone who is stoned at least three days a week. I try to speak with him my worries but he gives elusive answers. He tries to close the subject. He finds himself normal. What should I do?

Of course he defines himself as normal- and he may be for the people he hangs out with. But its not your normal- and you don't like it- and it sounds like he likes weed more than he wants to make you happy. So , if its really important, I'd give your heartfelt feelings that if he doesn't quit, it won't work out with the two of you. Sad to say, I think he will pick the weed-- but its important for you to know what his priorities are...

My husband and I are in the middle of a separation. We got married within the last two years, at the time thought it was the right decision but have since both agreed that something is missing that we can't quite put our fingers on. We never had the sensation of being crazy over one another, even early in our relationship. BUT we do get along very well, are close companions and one another's best friend...I guess my question is whether those are qualities to sustain a loving relationship in the future?How do we go about answering this for ourselves?

 I am a big fan of GOOD counseling ( defined by people who have seen the counselor or therapist and felt they were gifted and helped them a lot). It is hard to get an objective picture during complex relationship unravelings.. That said, I think companionship is the bedrock of a good relationship- but the difference between lovers and friends is that undefinable zing that makes this person the one you want to cuddle with, talk about life with- and yes, make love with.   Without the attraction- even one that dims somewhat over the year- it is hard for relationships to withstand the tough times. If your erotic feelings are already gone you need to find out why- and if they were never there- why you got together anyhow.  Too little information here for me to be really helpful- but do go talk to a professional about this before you end the marriage-- and certainly, if the marriage ends, before you start a new one.

I've fallen in love with a man who has a sweet spirit but due to his abusive childhood (he's now 65 yrs old), he has a problem of acting like a child all the time and seems to be a pathological liar. I so desire for him to get well, but nothing I've tried to do helps. Should I stay with him and support him with seeking professional help, or am I wasting my time? Due to his age, I'm afraid he'll never be able to change and 'be healthy'... which makes me sad.

It is sad- but I would say - get out of there fast. A pathological liar is a deeply damaged person and while people do change over their lifetime- it is unlikely that someone will change such a deepseated problem at this age ( and to tell you the truth- at most ages). Yes, this comes from his background, and it usually takes a very committed and long time with a therapist to get rid of the "devils" that haunt a person and create their need to invent a reality that never existed..  I know love makes a person feel they should try to help someone change very undesirable traits-- b ecause of course there are also some good ones-- but in this case, I'd say love isn't enough....

My husand has been friends with his ex-girlfriend for a while now. He doesn't see it, but she crushes on him. I trust him fully and I believe him when he says he has no interest and that she was a friend prior to their dating. I'm not interested in breaking up their friendship - I'm curious why ex-girlfriends hang on to someone they can't have? Thoughts?

Its an interesting question. I think some people 's self esteem is so low that they'd rather have crumbs than nothing at all. If she has a crush on him, I bet it is painful to know he doesn't want her "like that"-- and so being with him hurts. But it is also a reminder that he cares about her and so she gets enough reinforcement  that she feels  pleasure more than the pain- even though the pain is there.

   Perhaps she will find someone else to love- and that might convert the relationship with your man into a real friendship based on the things that drew them together in the first place.  These kind of conversions do happen.

And by the way, bravo to you for being secure  and  not feeling threatened.. A lot of men and women couldn't pull that off even though there really is no challenge to the relationship.

Do you recommend premarital counseling? If we are not religious, how do we find someone reputable?

  I think pre-marital counseling is terrific. I know most of it goes trough religious institutions but you can definitely find therapist ( counselors, social workers with a psychological practice etc) who would love to help you sort things out before your marriage. I think it is great to go through a conversation to make sure you have considered the practical and emotional weight of your comittment. You will definitely know each other even better afterwards and feel really good about the "work" you have put into the relationship....

One thought I'd like to put out there while there is a lull in the questions is the issue of making sure nothng goes really badly on Valentines Day... here are my list of things to watch over- you might want to add your own.

* One person brings a present, the other doesn't. ( try and figure out what to do- maybe even having a small present in reserve just in case)

* One person brings a big fancy present, the other -nothing or almost nothing.. I think its best not to give something so overwhelming on Valentine's Day that you make your partner feel inadquate and guilty. The exception to this is if you both agree to do a big splashy gift before hand,

* Getting flowers at the supermarket. Most women figure this out ( they shop there, remember:?) and they are not flattered. If you are going to get them there - get the free standing stems and make your own beautiful bouquet.

* Giving chocolates to someone who a- doesn't like chocolate- or b- is on a diet-- and you knew that!

* Going to a retaurant that has lots of children in it- and not a whiff of romance

* Thinking of it all last minute

* Going, protesting all the way..


Is Pepper your given first name? If so, did your parents know that you might someday become a doctor?

That was unexpected!!!

Actually, I picked my own name when I was 14. There were three other girls in my high school or neighboring high schools that had my name. I was a cheerleader ( truth telling time) and two of them were also cheerleaders. I was having an identity melt I was going away on a summer trip with kids I didn't know and my brother and I stayed up most of the night trying to think of a new name for me that my parents would agree to introduce me as- so I could try out a new identity for the summer. My brother Herb suggested Pepper as a joke-but I like it -and my parents went along with the experiment. I came back convinced I was not Pepper and had it legally changed when I was 21. Of course no one, least of all myself, knew it was eventually going to be "Dr. Pepper".

I am living a lie. I lie that I love my husband. He hurt me really badly by having an emotional affair and lying to cover it up. He tearfully admitted it AFTER I presented all the messages, receipts, etc. The past two years have been hellish and have sapped all my love for him, BUT we do fake it for our kids. I bought him a nice gift for Valentine's Day and found out this weekend that he has been lying to me again (!) about the same woman. How do I continue? I took his gift back yesterday and got a standard card, but I need to keep face with our two boys while I figure out what to do. Any pearls of wisdom or encouragment to get me through this fake-love day?

I am so sorry to hear about this. I know how painful this is. There must be some lucky woman ( or man for that matter)  out there somewhere who has never had the person she loved cheat or lie and betray the relationship- but over a life time many people will have felt the real pain of being led on- and hurt by someone they trusted and loved.

 I certainly wouldn't pretend Valentine's day was real. It isn't now...and why should you have to put on a performance.. Does he know you know? If he doesn't, you need to talk to him. You need to find out his intentions for your marriage-- and you need to examine your own. Is it really worth staying if he continues to cheat on you?  If it is, is there a different kind of bargain you can make that does not feel like you are in an abusive situation?  Would you be able to live separately- or find some solution so that you are not put in emotionally difficult situations?

   I don't know if you had counseling the first time this happened-but you certainly need to see someone now. I don't know how old your sons are, but kids are more intuitive than you think. They may not know exactly what is going on- but I bet they know when you are unhappy.

  I know there are people who say stay in a marriage with kids- no matter what. I am not one of those people. But I do believe it is worth getting a professional in there- to find out what is making your husband have another relationship- to find out if he wants to be in or out- and to see if the two of you can do the work it takes to fix things. If you can't, this emotional violence is not good for either you or ultimately, your kids.  So you need to address this head on- play acting for your husband, your kids and for yourself is too hurtful and ultimately doesn't fix anything.

In general, without knowing the situation, I would suggest accepting the grand gesture with all sincerity. Maybe the giver knew in advance that gift would exceed the other, and perhaps the person wants to feel special for making a grand gesture. I would recommend reciprocating appropriately at a future time if one believes one should do something in return.

I think thats a good answer. By all means receive well - and the person will feel good. I just worry about people feeling "out classed"- so its nice when things are emotionally equal - and sometimes people confuse that with the size of the gift. Also if its a dating couple and one person gives this huge gift signifiying how much entranced they are- and the other gives a smaller gift because they are way less invested in the relationship ( at least at that time) the difference in the gift may bring up deeper issues that you might not want to have on Valentines Day... but I do like the idea of reciprocating big time later if you do feel that is emotionally appropriate for the way you feel..

I would just like to say that I am one of the rare women who has zero, zip, nada desire to celebrate Valentine's Day. It has absolutely nothing to do with my relationship status. I have always boycotted the holiday whether I've been partnered or not. But one thing I wonder - WHY will people insist on going out to dinner tonight? No matter where you go, it's going to be packed!

 I know other people like you - though you are right - it is rarer for a woman to feel this way than a man.. Still, there are lots of people who don't want to celebrate love or their relationship on some holiday the gift card industry thought up--

  That said, dinner is the usual response because most people are too busy and shall we say, not gifted, at thinking of more original things to do.. So you inspire me- I will follow this with other ideas for tonight..

so here are some other ideas

* surprize your honey at lunch  or the end of the day with baloons or goodies for the office etc- and a big Valentines Day card-

* suggest a walk in the park, a swim at an indoor pool, something physical

*look to see if there is some kind of romantic movie on Netflix etc and watch it together.

* pick tonight to go through old photos of fabulous moments together- trips, early days of child raising etc.

* dress up for each other and have champange and hors d ouvres on  your living room floor

* go get, or give , foot rubs..

* read romantic or erotic stories to each other ( easily available by Kindle..




I would disagree on that one. If you want to be known as a romantic, get your sweetie flowers at the supermarket about once a month, while you are out grocery shopping. When you are invited to someone's house for a party, always bring supermarket flowers instead of a bottle of wine. I never get flowers on Valentine's Day though ... I still have to come up with something.

 I like that- giving flowers once a month- and then doing something else on Valentines Day is wonderful. They are fine when it is a part of showing your partner that you are continually thinking of them and putting something beautiful around that you both can take pleasure in.

Have you heard of this phenomenon? I think I just went through it with my great new guy of 5 months. Everything was GREAT - then he got cold and when I asked him about it, he said he just didn't feel it anymore. I gave him some space, and he seems to have come back around, but I am a little shell shocked: every time he says he wants to talk to me about something, I think he's getting hit by the wave again. BTW, he came on strong in the beginning. We are so compatible and there are definitely sparks between us - can you give me your take on "the wave" and how it can affect a new relationship?

I haven't heard the phrase, so I'm just guessing...but I think people go through doubts sometimes in both committed and uncommitted relationships. But if there is a good enough base, they come back--- just don't press them too hard when they are in that "distancing" moment..

I would like to write my intended a love sonnet (well, maybe for next year), but the examples on the Web are so good, I don't see how to approach it. Do you have any poetic advice?

Why depend on your own talent when you don't have time to do it right? You can of course write anything and your sweetie will appreciate the effort. But why not gather a bunch of wonderful sonnets by the masters- I still find e.e. cummings work wonderful to read- and to be sent.

My husband and I are very much in love but very busy. I am working two jobs to support him while he finishes his graduate degree. He is a TA in addition to his studies. His degree will be in theater, so he is gone many nights. Oh, and we have a 6 month old. Any suggestions for romance? We try to have a movie night once a week, but I feel like I barely see him enough to discuss our calendar never the less be romantic. Valentine's Day will consist of leftovers and exchanging of cards.

You can always put candles around, draw a bath- put on music ( even make a favorite CD) get lotion for dual massages, neck or feet rubs, and create food that feels a bit special ( like a fondu- sliced fruit and chocolate sauce- not expensive and very romantic)

   The mood, focus, and sensual light, food, scented air-- its romantic and its focused on each other...  even one hour taken like that does a world of good..

   And just make your own card- with a personal sentiment- or spend for a ten dollar membership on one of the electronic card sights- they have some great ones to send each other.. all year!!

Ms. Schwartz--I think you're totally off base. This guy is clearly presenting his own biased view of things. 1) Why did they move in together before they had been together for 8 months?? Presumably they are young, if starting a PhD program is in question. 2) She didn't prioritize going out over time with him before he left--he hadn't left his home yet, he was going to leave his home to visit her that night. Why does he care what she does on the NIGHT BEFORE valentine's day? Does he have monopoly over the night after v-day, and the night after night after v-day? I mean come on. 3) I work in a male dominated field and do most of my socializing with men. I will go to a graduate school that is male-dominated as well, and I would HATE if my boyfriend told me constantly that I cannot hang out with men and do the socializing necessary in graduate school. Clearly, she's not that interested in prioritizing him either, but maybe because he seems to have really high expectations.

Fair enough.. but as I understand it, he was leaving on Valentine's Day so the night before would have been special. Its true, his expectations may be so high that they were crushing-- thats why they need to be able to communicate-- or this won't work..

Really, just accept a gift and be gracious. I adore going big and buying people things. I truly do not need anything back or anything the "same class." Some of us just truly love giving stuff. Let's stop keeping score and just be happy, Ok?

Its not keeping score- giving big gifts is fun for the giver- always. But you need to know if your partner feels the need to reciprocate ( or can) and if they feel bad when they can't or don't want to. It's always about understanding who you are with and what any gesture means-- to them!

there IS one in Alexandria. Pepper is his last name (and his wife, Rodella Pepper, is on the City Council!)

Oh wlle, there is nothing unique in the world!

Hi, Dr. Pepper! My boyfriend and I had an argument last night (mostly because we're sleep-deprived and a little testy), and of course I feel remorse. Is there something I can do for valentine's day to make things better?

yes, I think tell him you are sorry, and he will probably reciprocate. And do something special for him: draw a bath, make him his favorite drink- give him a neck rub- just show how much you care in more than words.. I am sure he would like to get past the argument as well.. you can help both of you to do that by going straight to the physical ( ie massage, bath etc) and that will help the emotions get back in the right groove..

Lobster tails. They are red and make him smile.

ooh I like that... may I steal it?

My husband and I set budgets for Christmas, birthdays, Valentine's Day, etc. We are usually good at sticking with the budgets, and the budgets change each year depending on our finances ($50-$200). It has worked out well for us, and we don't have to worry about out-gifting each other.

Great idea!!!

A previous poster asked about premarital counseling, whether it's worth it. My husband and I had non-religious premarital counseling before we married, and we think it was the best thing we could do for our marriage. It gave us a chance to see where our differences may be. For us it's in communication styles, so now we are better equipped to identify when our conversations are going off the rails and to rein them in! Plus, we did the counseling while we were planning our wedding -- a stressful time that could have been worse if we hadn't been in counseling.

I hope everyone reads this-it is a benefit of pre-marital counseling I should have mentioned- you learn how to communicate even better- worth a zillion dollars!

It was great spending a bit of Valentine's Day with you..

I hope it goes well for all of you- that your problem will be fixed--and your good intentions and romantic expectations met.

Life isn't always easy- so it's good to celebrate when we can-- or anticipate the day when we will be able to celebrate!


Best, Wishes-- Pepper Schwartz

In This Chat
Pepper Schwartz
Pepper Schwartz is Professor of Sociology at the University of Washington in Seattle. She holds a B.A. and an M.A. from Washington University in St. Louis, where she was a Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and an M.A. and Ph.D in Sociology from Yale University.
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