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Why Couples Might Be More Likely to Break Up on Valentine’s Day

The relational impact of romantic holidays.

Key points

  • For some couples, relational reminders on Valentine's Day enhance partner perception of relationship functioning.
  • Partners high in attachment avoidance report lower relational satisfaction compared to individuals low in attachment avoidance.
  • Partners in weakened relationships are more likely to break up within the two weeks surrounding Valentine’s Day than other couples.

Many couples eagerly look forward to Valentine’s Day, buying gifts and making reservations at swanky restaurants or hotspots, anticipating memorializing the celebration with Instagramable moments. Other couples are worried their Valentine’s Day dinner may be their last. For relationships on the rocks, the romantic holiday may provide an opportunity, not for expensive dining, but expedient dissolution. But do couples on shaky ground really have to worry about a day celebrating romance ruining their own? Research has some answers.

Romantic Reminders

William J. Chopik et al. (2014) examined the impact of attachment avoidance on relationship functioning on Valentine’s Day.[i] They begin by noting that many cultures celebrate designated holidays dedicated to a celebration of love and affection, Valentine’s Day representing one of those holidays originating in Western culture. They recognize that a holiday like Valentine’s Day would conceivably increase the experience of enjoying a romantic relationship. Accordingly, they found that relational reminders on Valentine's Day enhanced partner perception of relationship functioning. But they also found that this perception was moderated by the attachment orientation of the individuals involved.

Chopik et al. explain that individuals who are high in avoidance report a lower amount of satisfaction and investment as compared to individuals low in attachment avoidance—a result that was particularly relevant when the significance of their relationships was emphasized on Valentine’s Day. Specifically considering relationships on Valentine’s Day, as opposed to a different day of the year, yielded higher levels of investment and satisfaction only by individuals who were lower in attachment avoidance. Chopik et al. note that their findings suggest that Valentine’s Day does indeed enhance relationships, but particularly for people who are thinking about their partner and are predisposed towards depending on their romantic partner.

Chopik and colleagues note that in general, feelings, thoughts, and behaviors that enhance relationships also enhance partner perception of relationship functioning. They give the example of how people who consistently express admiration and affection for their partner, and remind their partners (and themselves) what they appreciate about the relationship, enjoy relationships that are happier and more satisfying. They also note that being reminded of having a high-quality relationship partner is linked with feelings of gratitude, which enhances the experience of closeness. The researchers suggest that celebrating Valentine’s Day may function as an annual reminder for partners to remember the positive aspects of their romantic relationships.

Conversation Hearts or Broken Hearts

Chopik and colleagues do acknowledge evidence showing that Valentine’s Day could harm the evaluations of relationships. Past researchers found that partners in romantic relationships already in a weakened state were almost five times more likely to break up within the two weeks surrounding Valentine’s Day than they were during any other weeks of the year. But Chopik did not find support for the idea that relationship functioning necessarily deteriorates around Valentine’s Day, which has been an explanation provided to parse the increased relational dissolution that occurs during this time period. Instead, they found that on average, Valentine’s Day enhanced perceptions of relationship functioning rather than reduced them.

But not everyone enjoyed this “boost.” The researchers note that individuals high in avoidance did not experience this enhanced perception of relationship satisfaction and investment, leaving open the possibility that indeed, Valentine’s Day might be detrimental to some relationships.

As partners plan to celebrate the holiday with their significant others, celebrating the positive aspects of the relationship is a step toward maintaining relational quality and satisfaction.

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[i] Chopik, William J., Britney M. Wardecker, and Robin S. Edelstein. 2014. “Be Mine: Attachment Avoidance Predicts Perceptions of Relationship Functioning on Valentine’s Day.” Personality and Individual Differences 63 (June): 47–52. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2014.01.035.

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