Stuart Valentine

This article first appeared in Scotland on Sunday.

For many couples, Valentine’s Day is simply something to be ignored – an overly commercialised and artificial event designed to encourage us to spend money that we can ill afford.

This perhaps understandable reaction fails, however, to make the most of an opportunity for couples to take a little time to remember that relationships are important, especially the relationship with their partner, girlfriend, boyfriend, husband or wife.

Relationships Scotland, which provides counselling and mediation across the country, strongly encourages couples to make the most of each and every opportunity to affirm and strengthen their relationships. Valentine’s Day offers the chance to do something – anything – special that you know your partner will appreciate. The more personal the ­better. We all like to be made to feel special, especially by those close to us.

But what about those who may be single and feel that there is little likelihood of romance any time soon? Or those who have recently ended a relationship? How are they to navigate the explosion of love hearts and busy restaurants this coming Friday? A key point to remember is that the presence or absence of a close romantic relationship does not fully define a person. How people feel about themselves will guide how they approach all the challenges in life, not just Valentine’s Day.

Confidence and a high self-regard are not the sole preserve of people in happy relationships, and many ­people who come to Relationships Scotland claim that they develop and mature far more during times of ­being single than during times of being in a relationship. In addition, most people will have many other special relationships in their lives – with their friends, parents, ­siblings, cousins and colleagues at work.

A report by Relate in 2010, The Way We Are Now, found that 74 per cent of men and 82 per cent of women had good or very good relationships with their friends. This gives a strong reminder of the importance of the many other people in our lives, and encourages us not only to focus on the presence or absence of a partner.

For couples experiencing relationship difficulties, Valentine’s Day may simply be another painful reminder of what is lacking in their lives. Loneliness can be felt far more acutely when it happens alongside someone else and the experience of being in an unhappy or unfulfilling relationship can be exceptionally difficult. Many couples in difficulty will turn to agencies such as Relationships Scotland for support. Counselling can prove to be tremendously helpful and can help couples to understand one another better and to remember what attracted them to each other in the first place.

Rather than being a depressing time, Valentine’s Day could, for some couples, be the motivation to try to work towards a better relationship with their partner. Counsellors can help couples explore areas that they find difficult to talk about, and to find ways to navigate entrenched issues such as affairs, sexual problems and constant arguing. Many people who are now separated hold significant regrets that they did not try harder whilst in their relationship, and counsellors would encourage couples to seek help before their problems become insurmountable.

Strong relationships are the foundation of our lives, whether that be with our partners, wives, husbands, family, friends or work colleagues. They are to be cherished and given support when needed.

For many people in Scotland this year, Valentine’s Day will be exactly what they would wish for: a special time spent with the person they love. For others it can be the catalyst to remember the importance of other people in their lives or to begin the process of addressing relationship difficulties. Either way, it could be a day to remember.

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