Chocolates without Bows

Valentine’s weekend is upon us and the sales of chocolates and flowers with bows will rocket. The word ‘bow’ has several meaning: tie, curtsy, weapon, bend the knee, avoid (bow out). The intention of the ribbon bow may be conscious or unconscious. Some individuals bring the flowers with bows with the conscious intention of ensuring that, for example, they do not have to listen to the complaint ‘you forgot, didn’t you, that it’s Valentine’s Day; that shows how little you think of me!’ Actually what it does show is how little the person complaining feels and thinks about herself. One wonders why is she waiting for Valentine’s Day to test her partner’s commitment to her. Surely, all the evidence of how he feels or does not feel is displayed on the other three hundred and sixty-four days of the year! There is certainly little to be gained if you are your partner’s Valentine only one day in the year. And one wonders too why the person who gives the bouquet of flowers ‘for peace sake’ is not being authentic and expressing what he really feels? The implication is that the relationship has gone cold, but because it is of a lean-to nature, he is not in a secure enough place to rock the boat.

When the intention of the accompanying bow is to ‘tie’ to you the person you’re involved with or attracted to, it is a recipe for future conflict as such ties bind a relationship and they are blocking of each person’s mature progress and can become a painful entrapment. Mature intimate relationships are about separateness – no bows, no strings attached – and each party to the relationship appoints the other the guardian of his or her solitude. It is only when we bring our fullness and independence to each other that a relationship can be fulfilling and continue to deepen as each gets to know self and the other throughout the years of the relationship. A relationship that is enmeshed – entangled and all tied up by fears, expectations, control, dependence, threats, passivity, dominance, pretence – mirrors insecurities within each person which can only be resolved from within, not by the relationship without and, certainly, not by chocolates, flowers and even diamonds with bows.

Many young and, indeed, older people develop the wonderful illusion that marriage or an intimate relationship is what will bring them happiness. However, each of us is responsible for our own happiness and it is an unfair burden to put that responsibility onto the shoulders of your lover. When it does happen – and it is not at all uncommon – the person who takes on the responsibility has to now focus all her attention on her partner for fear she might lose him. The reality is that she has lost herself and their mutual dependence will sadly suck the life-blood out of the relationship.

When bows represent ‘bow-ing’ to the dominance of a partner, then a dependence on and fear of losing the other is present. The old practice of the male going on his knees to ask for his lover’s hand in marriage resonates here and it is not at all representative of the equality, independence and uprightness that is characteristic of a mature relationship. Any hiding of one’s authentic feelings in a relationship is tantamount to bending the knee and it is inevitable that the relationship will suffer from such passivity. Certainly, each party to a relationship needs to kneel at the altar of his or her own individuality, worth, sacredness and from those inner strongholds a mutual celebration of each other’s presence will emerge.

There are those individuals who protectively like to wrap their intimate relationship in a neat and tidy packet (naturally with a bow), but the reality is that couple relationships are rarely neat and tidy and it is the acceptance of that fact that is the basis for the deepening of a relationship. Nobody comes into a relationship without some emotional baggage and it is impossible to keep underlying personal insecurities under wraps for long. Conflict is a gift to a relationship when it is received as an opportunity for each partner to look within. It is not what happens between a couple that requires resolution but what is happening within each of them. Having a heart for another is only possible when you have heart for self.

When the chocolates, flowers and jewels are given with no bows attached, no hidden agendas, not used as a means to an end and there is present a genuine and sincere marking of the importance to the person of the partner’s presence, then a deepening of the attachment is likely to occur. However, February 14th needs to be backed-up by your intimate’s presence mattering the other 364 days; otherwise the Valentine gifts will quickly lose their romantic gloss.

Dr. Tony Humphreys practices as a Clinical Psychologist/Author and International Speaker. He is also Director of UCC Courses on Communication, Parent Mentoring and Relationship Studies. His book Myself, My Partner is currently available.