“Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” 1 Corinthians 13:7
Last Tuesday was Valentine’s Day! Terry and I had a quiet evening at home with Frank Sinatra, and Michael Bublé serenading us in the background. I seared a ribeye steak, made twice-baked potatoes and salad with fennel and blood oranges. We finished putting together a Valentine-themed puzzle while savoring chocolate mousse. Flowers from my favorite florist and an exchange of cards helped make the evening perfect for our first Valentine’s Day as empty nesters.
Valentine’s Day is a controversial holiday, about which I hear more Scrooge-like comments than for playing Christmas music before Thanksgiving. “Why do we need a holiday to celebrate our love”, “I’d rather receive flowers on a different day than on a made-up holiday”, or “Valentine’s Day has become too commercialized” are some the comments I have heard. Even my husband believed the same way for many years. We had two very different ideas of how to celebrate this holiday, and it left both of us feeling frustrated, unseen, and not loved.
It is curious that none of these same ideas are expressed about other holidays. On Mother’s Day, I never hear anyone say, “Why should I honor my mom today? We should celebrate her every day.” I don’t hear on Veteran’s Day, “Why should a veteran get a special discount today? Shouldn’t he/she get a discount every day?” We can all agree that mothers, fathers, and veterans should be honored regularly, but there is something special about setting aside a particular day to honor someone important. But Valentine’s Day feels different for many people, resulting in polarizing responses.
I agree that “unexpected flowers on an ordinary day” has its own special delight. I also agree that in a committed marriage it is important to celebrate your love more than one day a year. But after being married for almost 27 years, I know it’s easy to get busy in the day-to-day of life and forget the unexpected flowers, the special meals, or making sure you are setting the mood with romantic music. Soon, days creep by, weeks move on, and years pass without intentionally celebrating your marriage.
Celebrating events takes up significant real estate in the Bible, indicating it is important to God. He told Moses to set aside time to honor, remember, and express thankfulness for His faithfulness, deliverance, and abundant blessings. Regardless of what the Hebrews were experiencing, they celebrated together in community. Sometimes these celebrations occurred in times of peace and abundant harvest. But these same celebrations also happened in times of war, famine, and captivity. The point was to set aside time to remember the goodness of the past, to acknowledge the situation they were in now, and to look to the future. God also used these calendar events to mark life-changing experiences that were not coincidental. Jesus’ defining moment: his death and resurrection, happened during the celebration of Passover. And the outpouring of his spirit on believers also happened during the Feast of Weeks, a time to be thankful after the grain harvest.
I recently heard about “silver or gray divorces.” These are divorces that happen after twenty or more years of marriage. What I find shocking is that in the past twenty years, the divorce rate in the United States has declined, except for the over-fifty demographic where it has doubled. In 2021, 34.9% of all Americans who got divorced in the previous year were 55 or older. That is more than twice the rate of any other group surveyed! One therapist shared potential reasons why divorce happens with older couples, including retirement adjustments, active vs. passive lifestyles, and past hurts. But the number one reason for the divorce is that the couple grew apart. They grew apart, living in the same house, eating regular meals together, and sharing the same bed. After years of being married, creating a life with each other, raising children, and eating countless meals together, these husbands and wives felt they no longer knew each other, and went their separate ways.
I understand how that happens. Five years ago, Terry and I hit a point in our marriage where, if we hadn’t been committed to our vows before God, it would have been easy to go our separate ways. We were living together as roommates with the task of launching our adult children, but not connecting on a personal level. We were busy doing life side by side but not together. And as days went by, we forgot to remember our past, acknowledge our present situation, and look to our future. Not only was Valentine’s Day not being celebrated, but I wasn’t getting unexpected flowers and Terry wasn’t getting a special steak prepared for him.
Sadly, it took a major crisis to alert us to how far off the “together” path we had strayed. Since then, we have engaged in some hard work, in a lot of ways, some internal therapy together. In retrospect, we should have done marriage therapy, and highly encourage it for others. It is still on the table for us, and it’s a shame that insurance companies don’t prioritize mental health as much as physical health. I often wonder how much of our aches and pains are the result of the mental health loads we carry. But that’s rabbit hole for a different post. Our major crisis changed our lives for the better by drawing us back to God and each other, and we didn’t join the growing statistics of “silver divorces.”
I want to set the record straight; I am in no way judging another person’s marital status. There are difficult, unsafe marriages, marked with abuse and infidelity, where separating or divorcing is the right thing to do. We also have a no-fault divorce society that most people would say has made divorce easier legally, but the process is still painful. I also know that God can redeem lives on the other side of divorce.
Looking back, I can see little steps that we both made that caused us to drift apart. Four years prior, we were intentional with our family, but forgot to be intentional as a couple. We dealt with some major hurts from the past that affected our relationship in ways we didn’t fully understand. We both faced pressures and believed that our own individual struggles were more valid than our spouse’s. And with our lack of intentionality, hurts, and selfishness, it was easy to stop celebrating holidays and anniversaries.
I wonder what would have happened if we had set aside our own feelings, and celebrated Valentine’s Day anyway. Maybe it would have been us just going through the motions and the result would have been the same. But just maybe, we would have remembered what brought us together in the first place, allowed ourselves the space to acknowledge the hard we were feeling, and taken the opportunity to dream for the future.
Last year was busy for our family. We had major family celebrations: wedding showers, a baby sprinkle, the wedding, birthdays, and the arrival of a new granddaughter. And we were also still unpacking some hard issues and didn’t prioritize time set aside just for us. Even though we are on the other side of the crisis, when looking at the list of why silver divorces happen, it is easy to see how these marriage pitfalls can still affect a marriage, even after they have been identified.
Terry and I have very different activity levels. I love to go places, experience cities, explore museums, and try new restaurants. After a long week of looking at spreadsheets, Terry enjoys relaxing at home with a cup of coffee and a good book. Our activity levels have always been different but have become more pronounced without children filling in the spaces. We both needed to acknowledge that each other’s level of activity is a valid lifestyle, and not put a judgmental spin on our differences. We also need to create a win-win situation, where both of our needs are being met. These conversations require honesty, space to self-reflect, and some sacrifice on both parts.
We came to the place where we agree to be intentional in both spaces. We split our time between going to new places and spending time together at home. But this takes effort carving out time for each other by marking dates on the calendar. God gave the Hebrews a calendar because He knew they would forget. We are mindful to plan dates for the symphony, put a puzzle together, or just go out for a good cup of coffee.
And we choose to celebrate Valentine’s Day as a day set aside for celebrating our committed love. It is no longer a day when Terry feels frustrated, and I feel disappointed. It is the day where we come together, choosing how we are going to celebrate it. Yes, there are flowers, food, and music. And yes, they are all important to us. But what is most important is us remembering our past, acknowledging today, and looking towards the future!