By Richard Meek

The Catholic Commentator

A day that some jokingly, or maybe not, contend is a conspiracy concocted by a popular greeting card company and the floral industry is either a highly anticipated day of romance or one that is immensely feared, the latter more dominant among the male population.

Valentine’s Day is a roux of roses, chocolates, cards and candlelight dinners, with the purpose of expressing one’s romantic feelings toward his or her partner, or at the minimum staying out of trouble by remembering to send flowers and present chocolates (and never buy that popular refrain from your partner “you should not have bought candy because I am on a diet” because failure to do so can have grave repercussions).

But those warm and fuzzy feelings so gushy on Feb. 14 can be as fleeting as they are fickle, according to Darryl Ducote, director of the Office and Marriage Family Life for the Diocese of Baton Rouge.

“(Valentine’s Day feelings) can be very intense at the beginning of a relationship, drawing two people together and creating an idealized image of each other that overlooks one another’s flaws and deficiencies,” he said. “Over time, however, reality intrudes into those idealized images and a more realistic image of each other emerges. As a result, romantic feelings can dwindle.”

Ducote said when those warm and fuzzies begin to wane, perhaps even before the roses are droopy and the chocolate melted, some lovers assume they will need to create grand gestures to rekindle those feelings. Those gestures might include exotic vacations, private weekend getaways, and yes, even more roses, chocolates, cards and candlelight dinners.

However, what psychologists have discovered is that the secret to lasting romance depends on much more mundane experiences.

More than 40 years of research with married couples, conducted by the Gottman Institute of Seattle, has revealed that romantic feelings are maintained by a couple’s simple attempts to connect with one another on a daily basis. The scientists noticed that husbands and wives made frequent “bids” for their partner’s attention, affection, humor or support.

If the other spouse responded positively to the “bid,” a connection was made. If the other spouse did not respond positively, an opportunity for connection was lost, research showed. The scientists described these responses to the “bids” as either “turning towards” versus “turning away.”

The researchers noticed that the “bids” were usually not grand gestures but simple interactions, such as, “Did you see this article in the paper today?” or “I had the strangest dream last night.” If the other spouse responded positively, such as, “Tell me about that article” or “What was your dream?” their connection was strengthened.

Adversely, if the bid was ignored and the other partner “turned away,” their connection weakened like a wilted rose.

These simple responses had a significant impact on the quality of their relationship. The researchers coined the term “emotional bank account” to describe this impact.

They recognized that every time one of these simple connections was made, it was equivalent to making a deposit in the couple’s “emotional bank account.” Thus, the more couples “turned toward” each other, the greater their emotional bank account.

The building up of their emotional bank account not only served as a cushion when times got rough, but also served as the most significant key to lasting romance. Once couples understand this simple “key,” they can make a greater effort to notice when their partner is making a “bid” and respond positively.

Although the gestures associated with Valentine’s Day are certainly welcome, they are not the model for lasting romance. The real answer is the couple’s faith and awareness of the need to connect in simple ways every day, not just on Valentine’s Day.