(Allie Ghaman illustrations/Express)

If your heart is racing because Valentine’s Day is approaching, that might not be a good thing. It can be a stressful holiday, particularly for anyone worried about measuring up to the lovey-dovey standard. What can you do to make sure Feb. 14 is about amore instead of angst? Local couples counselors suggest these techniques.

1. Gaze into each other’s eyes.

“Communication is more than just talking,” says Marissa Nelson, a licensed marriage and family therapist. One way to send a message loud and clear is through a meaningful stare. She recommends facing each other, standing about an arm’s length apart and not saying a word (or making any funny faces). “It’s uncomfortable at first,” she says, “but after about 20 seconds, you’ll see a sense of vulnerability and that increases your intimacy.” Don’t be surprised if you find yourself crying, Nelson adds. That’s just a sign that you’re working through the strong emotions this exercise can stir up.

2. Don’t just give a card. Write a card.

No Hallmark employee can express your inner thoughts, says Douglas Cohen, Ph.D., whose office is in Georgetown. So craft something in your own words and handwriting. “I don’t want to say that’s an easy thing to do,” he admits. But it doesn’t have to be a poem in rhyme. It just has to show effort. To get started, he suggests, brainstorm adjectives that remind you of your partner, journal about your feelings and develop an outline. Hopefully you’ll come up with material for a few notes, which you can tuck into hiding places for your partner to find. “A gesture like that is worth more than four dozen roses,” he says.

3. Be honest about what you really want.

When Ashley Seeger tells people to be blunt with partners about Valentine’s expectations, the licensed independent clinical social worker always gets pushback. “They say it takes the romance out of it,” Seeger says. But there’s nothing romantic about disappointment. If you take the time to talk it out — soon!! — you might learn that your plans don’t jibe with your partner’s. That’s fine, she adds, as long as you can then negotiate a compromise. Maybe that’s going to see the opera but guaranteeing a bedroom aria when you get home, Seeger says. A little humor and generosity can go a long way.

4. Ask the right questions.

A recent “Modern Love” column in The New York Times referred to a study by sociologist Arthur Aron, who compiled a list of 36 questions that can help strangers develop an instant connection. (An example: “Is there something you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?) There’s no reason you can’t rely on those same questions to deepen an existing relationship, according to Dupont Circle-based psychologist Laura Kasper, Ph.D. “People change. And what you assumed may have evolved,” she says. “You can fall in love with the person you’ve been in love with all over again.”

5. Commit to going to bed together every night.

No, you don’t need to have sex 365 days a year, says Lindsey Hoskins, Ph.D., who practices in Bethesda. But you should make an effort to get under the covers at the same time for some pillow talk. “Even if one of you has to get back up and work for a few hours, lay for 15 minutes together,” she says. Between demanding jobs and family obligations, it can be tough to synchronize schedules, so this ritual forces you to carve out space for your relationship. And there’s something special about doing it at the end of the day, in a quiet, personal space, Hoskins adds.

 

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