Valentine’s Day is a time to celebrate love, yet it can also bring to the forefront the kinds of petty arguments that can chip away at your daily enjoyment of your partner, like deciding where to eat. The problem with these arguments is they make the time you spend with your family less joyful.
What can you do to make sure that the small things don’t derail satisfaction with your loved one?
Think back to how you felt early in the relationship. Remember the times when the activities you were engaged in mattered less than the chance to spend time together. When you first fall in love with someone, you think about longtime horizons. Could this be the person you will spend your life with, start a family with and grow old with? You share your life history with a new person. You make plans for the future.
As a result, you don’t spend much time thinking about day-to-day factors. You gloss over differences in some of the specifics of how you live your lives such as food preferences and meal times when you’re carried away with the emotional intensity of a relationship.
Later, though, the day-to-day factors begin to matter again. You have to integrate that relationship into your life. And if you have a family together, then you have to balance your relationship with the daily responsibilities of being a parent.
When you are focused on the day-to-day details, the differences between you and your partner get magnified. You begin to pay attention to whether you get to go out to the restaurant you like or have home-cooked meals that are spiced to your satisfaction. You think about the movies you see and whether you are getting to enjoy the activities that are your favorites rather than the favorites of your partner.
Pop back up the longer-term horizon. When you’re tempted to get down in the weeds and feel bad about a particular decision such as where to eat, remind yourself that the main reason you’re spending time together is to enjoy the time together and celebrate your relationship. That can help to ease the small resentments that build when you don’t get exactly what you want.
On top of that, most of us have an illusion that we know what our partner really likes. Research suggests that couples who have been together for many years are confident that they understand what their partner likes, but they are generally less accurate at predicting their partner’s preferences than couples who have only recently gotten together.
In the research, some couples who had been together for a long time were good at predicting their partner’s preferences. What made these couples successful was that they talked a lot about what they like and don’t like. Over time, your tastes change. It is entirely possible that your partner doesn’t realize that particular foods, restaurants or activities are not ones you really enjoy. That may make it easier to pick something that both of you like.
Finally, there’s nothing wrong with explicitly trading off on some activities. Agreeing to go to one restaurant today in exchange for another in the future can also defuse tension. In the end, remember when you look back over your life, you’re going to think about the big picture, not the small details. To play on an old cliché, nobody has ever lain on a deathbed wishing he had spent another day arguing about what to have for dinner.