Valentine's Day puts a spotlight on any relationship, especially if yours seems to be shifting and you're unsure about where you and your partner stand romantically. Many couples reach their breaking point as other couples exchange flowers and kisses, so Bustle spoke with clinical psychologist Dr. Caroline Fleck to find out how to handle an impending breakup around Valentine's Day. We've all heard those stories about people who called it quits with their partners in the days leading up to Valentine's Day, but is it actually more considerate to break things off after the holiday?
No matter how you handle a breakup around Valentine's Day, Fleck says you can avoid making a complicated situation worse if you lead with honesty and respect. Sooner is better than later. "We tend to overestimate our ability to feign interest when we've moved on," says Fleck, adding that "[your partner] will likely pick up on subtle and not-so-subtle changes in [your] behavior and experience [a lot] of stress in trying to determine if they are 'reading too much into things,' or if their instincts are correct."
If you were to look back on a relationship before the breakup, you'll likely be able to see all the classic warning signs that the person who initiated the breakup had mentally checked out weeks or months prior. In other words, we're not very good at concealing our feelings.
"Putting off a breakup often has more to do with us not wanting to feel like [terrible people] than it does with being fair or kind to our partners," Fleck says. In most cases, the most thoughtful and responsible thing to do is to tell your partner when you've realized you're no longer in love or no longer committed. The more time you spend acting out the role of a committed partner, the more of your partner's time you waste and respect you jeopardize. But Fleck says a "one-size-fits-all" approach doesn't exist.
According to Fleck, it's more about honoring you and your partner's friendship, even if the romantic element has expired. "If your partner lives for Valentine's Day [every] year, recently suffered a loss, or would be socially humiliated to show up stag to a planned event, consider putting it off until after the [holiday]," Fleck says. "If it would feel like a betrayal to the relationship you've built and might hope to maintain, take that seriously and opt for timing that honors the culture of your relationship."
When all else fails, Fleck suggests putting yourself in your partner's shoes and thinking about what you would want. For instance, if you would be devastated if your partner gave you a romantic Valentine's Day, filled your heart with joy, and then ended things the next day, you might want to be upfront and break it off the minute you know it's over. But if you'd be devastated to spend the holiday freshly wounded by the breakup, then honor the friendship and wait until after Valentine's Day.
Breaking up always hurts, especially if it's not mutual. But letting honesty and empathy for your partner lead the way will allow you to get through the breakup in the most humane way possible. Valentine's Day is just one day, so don't let the fear disappointing someone get in the way of the respect they deserve.
Caroline Fleck, PhD, clinical psychologist and adjunct clinical instructor at Stanford University