Have you ever wondered why February is christened the “Month of Love?”
Likely, it is because Valentine, a 3rd-century Roman saint, was traditionally recognized as the saint of courtly love. He was added to the Saints’ List on the 14th of February. Interestingly, there is little evidence that Valentine truly existed, so the Roman Church quietly removed him from the list in 1969.
Now, whether Valentine really lived or not, there seems to be some good logic for calling February the “love month.” At least, from my perspective as a counsellor.
First is that winter is long. Its dark, long nights can be lonely and isolating. We also have stressors like the Christmas rush, family visits, and overspending. For many, these can trigger emotions that put couples at odds.
Second: winter is cold in the Northern Hemisphere. Since the majority of our time will be stuck indoors, it’s probably best to make up with your bunkmate. Winters are cold, but not nearly as cold as a cold shoulder.
February is the midpoint in a long, cold season where we spend much of our time indoors and together. Love is a fire built by hope, fed with time, talk and touch.
Humor aside, though, many ask, “how do we keep the fire in our relationship?”
I love that couples see the need for this, and commit to incorporate it. The other reason I love this question, is that I am able to dust off analogies from my life as a member of ground search and rescue:
Want to light a fire? You need the Tetrahedron.
Fire needs three things to work, no, four. Fuel, Air, and Heat and the fourth is the chain reaction to keep it going. I like to translate that into Time, Talk and Touch. Three logs that burn together and makes fire healthy, sustainable and an effective tool for cooking and heat – and love.
Fuel = Time
Time is not to be understood literally as the number of hours spent in each other’s company. It is more about the value you attach to those hours.
Let’s consider “Shelly”, who was telling me about an invitation to go to Las Vegas from someone she met through an online dating service. She asked him, “Are you looking for someone to fit into your life or are you looking to build a life with someone?”
Shelly’s date wanted to spend time with her, but she was more concerned with the value he would place on that time.
The question reveals a deep gender divide. Unlike men, who develop identity by being independent and self-sufficient, women develop identity through connection and collaboration. In Shelley’s case, the man is keen on the event, while Shelley is interested in the connection.
So, how do we spend time together so both men and women feel valued in the same relationship? By respecting those differences and creating space for the connection. And acknowledging that when one methodology dominates, both people suffer.
How do you spend time with your significant other? Do you make it a priority to block out time together and be present during that time?
Air = Talk
Communication is the key to connection, but what do we talk about?
I remember as a kid, around the supper table, my brothers and I would talk of the events when asked about the day while my sisters would talk of the moments of significance. Our stories were full of “ and then… and then…” while my sisters spoke of how the emotions they experienced, “I was so excited…”.
How we boys felt wasn’t relevant to us while the sequence of events made no sense to my sisters; they wanted, more than anything else, to connect before they moved on.
This difference in communication style, when not understood, can result in judgement. [Generalization alert] Typically, feelings are important for men only if they have a significant impact on the next event. For women, though, events are important only if they are vital for the connection.
By appreciating the difference, both partners can feel heard and connected. I have a sheet called 101 Relationship Questions, designed by Thomas Leonard with discussion starters for couples. I generally encourage couples to take the exercise, not for the mere sake of completing the questions, but to develop a connection.
Do you know what to talk about with your significant other? Do you make it a priority to give them your full attention?
Heat = Touch
This is such a delicate and essential subject. Touch is the physical expression of emotion. It can be tender or violent, reflecting feelings in an outward form. Touch can be sexual or non-sexual.
Seeing touch as a form of communication, it is easier to see how men see sex as an event, and women see it as a connection.
Men will engage in touch as an invitation to an event: sex. Women will engage in touch to confirm an emotional connection, which may not include an invitation to the event.
If a man misreads the invitation, or lack thereof, he can feel unwanted and unvalued. Without the emotional connection, women may feel objectified, which can be damaging and deeply traumatizing.
In 101 Relationship Questions, Thomas Leonard separates touch into sexual and non-sexual interaction.
Do you know what touch means to your significant other? Do you make this form of communication a priority?
Time, Talk and Touch are the portals of engagement.
Removing one element, puts out the “fire,” leading to feelings of judgement, rejection, and abandonment. Fear of these emotions often results in defensive behavior, internal conflict, anxiety, and inability to express one’s needs and fears.
Have you heard the saying, “you attract what you fear?”
I often use the analogy that two people in a relationship are like two countries bordered by a river with a bridge spanning the gap.
Who designs the bridge? How can it be updated as the two evolve? If both people evolve and the relationship is not updated, the relationship will suffer significant stress.
Stagnant relationships may still work but, oftentimes, they don’t.
When you apply the tetrahedron of Time, Talk and Touch to your relationships, you get the Fuel, Air and Heat that you need to keep the fire going.
And the chain reaction caused by your continual interaction – the fourth element – will warm your heart, mind and body for life.