Celebrating Diversity in Relationships this Valentine’s Day
Valentine’s Day—a time of celebration for some and stress for others. It’s one of American’s biggest “holidays.” Lovers trade flowers and chocolates and crowd into cozy restaurants to celebrate each other. In 2021, US consumers spent more than $21 billion on Valentine’s Day. This year they’re expected to spend $27 billion.
Despite the celebration, the long-term viability of many relationships remains precarious. In 2019, more than two million US couples tied the knot, but nearly 750,000 severed it. Couples marrying for the first time have a 50% chance of divorcing.
Broken marriages and explosive relationships inflict emotional and mental suffering not only on the couples involved but their families too. The shockwaves ripple out to friends and the workplace, contributing to presenteeism and absenteeism.
“Employees in failing relationships cost employers money,” a study by relationship consultant Life Innovations says. “There are substantial productivity declines for workers in failing relationships. These workers often have serious health concerns: increased stress and anxiety, increased rates of depression, and increased rates of substance abuse.”
There are many areas in relationships that cause conflict, leading to these very concerning outcomes for an employee’s mental and physical wellbeing. These issues often seem to come down to our differences.
Loving ourselves, loving our differences
For proof, look no further than divorce court documents, which infamously cite “irreconcilable differences” so often it’s become a cliché. Leo Tolstoy, in the opening line of his famous novel Anna Karenina, sums up the situation perfectly: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
This Valentine’s Day let’s recognize and celebrate our difference, so we can view them as assets rather than liabilities. Management consultants have long known that diversity—difference—is key to strong business performance. Perhaps it’s time to apply the same thinking to our private relationships.
Here are some tips from LifeSpeak relationship experts on bringing out the best in ourselves and others so we can truly appreciate our unique, diverse relationships. Share them with your clients, coworkers and their families.
Embracing Individual Differences:
In her LifeSpeak video Maintaining self-identity within your romantic relationship, registered psychotherapist Janna Comrie says good relationships let individuals flourish. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case.
“We’ve all met the individual who seems to morph into another person and reflects their partner’s wants, needs, beliefs, likes and preferences. This typically isn’t healthy and generally doesn’t make for a good quality, long-lasting relationship.”
So, how does a partner in a relationship recognize if this person is them? According to Comrie, there are a couple of ways:
- You stop doing things that you would have done without your partner’s influence. It’s healthy to make time for your partner but not by excluding everything and everyone else.
- Your values change. Sometimes this is a healthy part of aging and maturing, but sometimes we change to align with a partner because we value their opinions more than our own or because we don’t want to start a fight.
- You don’t do anything without your partner. You should be able to find three or four things you do without your partner or their influence, like book a haircut, go to the gym or hang out with a friend. If you can’t do these things without checking with a partner first, it may be a sign that you’re worried about the way they’ll react.
Comrie advises people who identify with her assessment to take ownership of their situation and have an honest conversation about it with their partner.
“Your partner’s reaction will tell you a lot. If your partner is angry or resentful that you want to take time for yourself or treat you as though you need to ask for permission,” Comrie says. “This is a red flag. A healthy partner will often offer encouragement and might take some time to do something for themselves.”
Understanding different faiths and cultures:
In his LifeSpeak video Interfaith and multicultural relationships, Psychologist Dr. Joshua Coleman says marriages that span different religions or ethnic groups are statistically more susceptible to conflict and divorce.
Once again our differences, which we at first relished, become inflection points. Coleman provides a few examples: sometimes issues arise when the couple has kids, or during the holidays; other times they occur when parents visit, especially for extended stays.
Coleman says couples of mixed faiths or mixed cultures should learn about their partner’s religion or culture. He encourages inviting both families to get involved and teaching them about the faith, ethnicity, and culture of both partners. This will help families stay close and maintain strong communication. He also recommends premarital counselling for those preparing for marriage, just to smooth things out and make sure problems don’t arise.
“It’s surprising how many people don’t anticipate the way that these can be flashpoints,” Coleman says. “They feel like, well we love each other, we come from the same kind, we have similar values, it’ll all work out. Well, it often doesn’t work out. Marriage is a long haul, and these things can become much more dramatic over time.”
Respecting diversity in same-sex relationships:
In her LifeSpeak video Same sex couplehood and parenthood, Psychiatrist Dr. Karine J Igartua poses a simple question.
“With two moms, which one do you call when Jimmy has a fever?”
The good news is it depends.
Igartua says that same sex couples typically divide labor and childcare responsibilities more equally than heterosexual couples do—and with respect for the uniqueness of each partner. In same sex couples, responsibilities are often divided by differences in personality, interests, availabilities, and financial considerations rather than preconceived notions of gender roles.
Family studies teacher Stephanie Coontz agrees. In her LifeSpeak video What are some things that heterosexual couples can learn from same sex couples? she says many heterosexual couples slip into more traditional gender roles after the birth of a child—and researchers find this causes a lot of discontent.
“The man takes on more hours at work and comes home and wonders why his wife isn’t more grateful for the extra work he’s doing, and his wife is resentful because she’s losing her access to the kinds of work and outside supports,” Coontz says.
Being aware of how home and work responsibilities are divided is something that could benefit all couples.
Continue celebrating uniqueness with LifeSpeak
This is just a snapshot of LifeSpeak’s expert-led micro learning education on relationships. It’s a small part of a vast library that spans many important topics including depression, anxiety, caregiving, addiction, mindfulness, DEI, financial planning and more.
If you’re an existing client with access to this portion of the LifeSpeak library, check out the full videos on the platform and refer your employees, clients or their families there to learn more.
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Tina Kaichis is responsible for developing and executing the marketing and communications strategy for the Company on a global basis. Most recently, Ms. Kaichis was Vice President, Marketing & Communications at the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. She has held executive-level marketing roles in the non-profit sector and marketing leadership roles at large public companies and industry-disrupting start-ups in the communications and software industries. Ms. Kaichis holds a BCom from York University and an MBA from Schulich School of Business.