Making the Most of Valentine's Day: A Q&A with Dr. Kristina Nelson

Love – as it turns out – is not for the faint of heart.

A healthy relationship requires communication, making time for one another and signs of affirmation, according to Dr. Kristina Nelson, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi assistant professor of counseling and education psychology. Valentine’s Day remains a thoroughly entrenched commercial exercise in the U.S., which is estimated to generate $20.7 billion in 2019, according to an annual survey conducted by the National Retail Federations and Prosper Insights & Analytics.

However, Nelson says Feb. 14 need not only be about expensive floral arrangements, overpriced meals in crowded restaurants, or even a once-in-a-lifetime impulse buy. She notes that there are many ways to show love without spending a dime and adds that even singles can get in on the fun – albeit in a nontraditional way. 

Q: What are some suggestions you might have for couples who've been in a relationship for a long period of time? What would you say to them in terms of keeping the romance alive?

A:  I would say that it needs to happen consistently throughout the day, throughout the week; it's not just a one-time date-type thing. It's important to remember to show each other that you appreciate each other and that you love each other in little ways and big ways. I find that a lot of times we get busy with work and life. There's so much that can really get in the way of our relationship with our spouse or our significant other, and it's important to really make time for each other.

Q: What are some specific examples of spending quality time together?

A: It can just be making a special meal together or for your spouse and taking that time to just share the experience together. Go for a walk around your neighborhood – we live by the water so there’s lots of beautiful places to walk that are easy to access and free of charge. It could be watching a television show or a movie together. In addition, there’s also free activities around town that you can do.

Q: Some couples not only live together but work for the same employer. What kind of relationship challenges do those couples face?

A: It’s different for every couple, but the key thing is to make sure partners have individual time as well as couples time. For some folks, what's worked out is making sure that he or she takes a lunch break with a friend regularly. It’s important to set boundaries and to communicate that, too.

Q: How important are cues when it comes to partners segueing from parenting duties to a more romantic moment?

A: There’s a book that I bring out during couple’s counseling called “The Five Love Languages” by Dr. Gary Chapman. He outlines five key concepts:

  • Receiving gifts
  • Quality time
  • Words of affirmation
  • Acts of service
  • Physical touch 

There's actually a free quiz that couples can do, and what's so surprising for couples is they'll take the quiz and they're shocked usually, that, ‘Oh my gosh, this is how I show love but this is not how I receive love.’ Just opening that communication and understanding that, ‘This is what I mean when I'm doing this,’ really helps people to better understand each other.

Q: In a university setting, people come and go based on academic career paths. People can fall in love but then decide to go to different schools on different sides of the country. Is love something that you can put on hold for an academic or career choice?

A: It's a good question, and I think it's unique to each couple. I'm a firm believer in if it's meant to be, it'll be OK. Some couples can work through distance and some can’t. Couples have to consider what's going to happen in that space, how much space – meaning distance and time – is there, and what effort is being put forth in that time. I know some couples who had to have some distance in their relationship for some time, and they would set boundaries for themselves: How much time will we allow between our communication; will we go no more than two days without communicating or one day – even if it’s just a text. In that situation, you must strongly establish what's going to help both of you feel appreciated and loved so that you're still committed.

Q: Millennials are a different generation because they have access to social media and online dating that is beyond the scope of options that older generations might have experienced. As a result, it seems that millennials tend to cycle through relationships a lot faster than Generation X. Is love an endangered species?

A: I don't have a complete answer because there's emerging research on this trend. I don't know that love can necessarily be changed; online dating is definitely a different avenue of getting there, and it seems like a more rapid cycle. But once two people are spending time together and experience that face-to-face interaction, over time, you're going to find out if this is real or not. The important thing to remember with the online presence is online communication is it's one-way communication and there's a lot lost in translation. With respect to social media, my suggestion for couples and individuals is don't compare yourself to others.

Q: When it comes to singles, it stands to reason that some singles may be put off by Valentine's Day because they are not in a significant relationship. What would you say to them – is it a day to spoil one’s self?

A: Sure – it can absolutely be a self-love moment, because we don't necessarily have to be in a relationship to show appreciation to ourselves to know that we have self-acceptance. It could be doing something for yourself; it could be going out with friends. It could also be doing something for their community and showing love through volunteering.