By Dr. Julie Davelman ~
Although a holiday that is meant to be all about love and happiness, Valentine’s Day leaves a remarkable number of people feeling sad and disappointed. For many people, these negative feelings come not from something bad actually happening on this day, even though this too of course happens, but from their thoughts about what happened. Most often, people are not even aware of these thoughts as they happen very quickly; these are known as “Automatic Thoughts.” Additionally, since we are unaware of having had the thought, we assume that we are reacting to what is actually happening.
Here are some hypothetical scenarios and some the automatic thoughts they might generate:
Scenario Automatic Thought
1. You expected your partner to come home early from work so you could celebrate, but he/she came home at the same time he/she always does.
If he/she cared about me, he/she would have made the effort to come home early.
2. You expected your partner to get you something personal, but he/she got you flowers and chocolates.
This is the same gift he/she has given to every previous partner; he/she does not think much of me.
3. You expected your partner to arrange for babysitting for your children so the two of you could go out to dinner, but instead he/she picked up take out on the way home so you can eat dinner as a family.
We never do anything special unless I do all of the planning and the work.
None of the above scenarios describe situations in which something bad actually occurred. However, the associated automatic thoughts likely led the person to feel upset and angry. Had the person appraised the situation more accurately, he/she might have felt just disappointed or mildly irritated, which would have allowed him/her to enjoy the evening even though it was not playing out the way he/she had wished.
Assuming you do not want this day to leave a “black mark” on your relationship, then the best way to attempt to reel in the negative emotions, is to refute the automatic thoughts. For example, you can say to yourself, “Although I wish the gift had been more unique than chocolates, these are my favorite chocolates and they are hard to find, so my partner was thinking about me and trying to get me something that I would enjoy.”
If you are experiencing negative emotions connected with how your Valentine’s Day turned out but cannot figure out what is making you upset, I invite you to try to identify what you had been thinking when the emotion first came up (identify the automatic thought), and then develop ways to refute that thought.