By Dr. Chelsea Reid

It’s that time of the year! The store aisles are lined with pink and red candy kisses, ooey-gooey greeting cards, and even stuffed gorillas singing your favorite love songs with the push of a button. Couples are scheduling dinner reservations and romantic getaways, and they’re trying to pick out the perfect gifts to demonstrate their affection for one another. Many who are in relationships have been eagerly anticipating one of the most romantic days of the year.

There’s a lot of love going around, but could Valentine’s Day also harm your relationship?

Research suggests that Valentine’s Day may not be quite the catalyst of relationship bliss that many of us assume. In fact, couples of undergraduate students were 2.55 times more likely to break up during the two-week period preceding and following Valentine’s Day than other times of year (Morse & Neuberg, 2004). Ouch!

What’s behind this higher break-up rate? The researchers proposed two possible explanations. First, it’s possible that the anticipation and aftermath of Valentine’s Day leads to lower expectations for the relationship and decreased favorability of the relationship and romantic partner compared to others (the instigator hypothesis). In other words, the gifts given and plans made may not live up to the high expectations set by culture and romantic prelationshipsartners, especially in comparison to the romantic plans of others. Your box of chocolates was perhaps not big enough; your dinner was perhaps not fancy enough; your lingerie was perhaps not sexy enough. The flowers were beautiful, but nothing compared to the candlelit dinner cruise to which your girlfriend’s friend was treated. Breathe a sigh of relief. The researchers did not find support for the instigator hypothesis.

Instead, the researchers found support for the notion that Valentine’s Day acts as a break-up catalyst by magnifying existing relationship issues (the catalyst hypothesis). Valentine’s Day had no effect on strong relationships or relationships that were already improving, but Valentine’s Day did increase the likelihood of break-ups occurring among weak relationships and relationships that were in a downslide. Maybe the extra pressure of the holiday helps all of those little existing issues come to the surface among couples who are struggling. Maybe you and your partner have been having doubts for a while and the lack of holiday spark was the final blow. Put differently, Valentine’s Day may be the final push for relationships that are already on their way to a break-up.

This research may seem like quite the bummer for a holiday that is supposed to be so happy, but let’s reexamine what we’ve learned. Maybe this is good news. Perhaps the couples who are breaking up are saving themselves the time and pain of prolonging the inevitable. If your relationship is feeling weak and you don’t want to be a victim of the Valentine’s Day relationship massacre, you might want to go the extra mile to make this year’s holiday particularly special. If your relationship is going strong, this research suggests that perhaps you need not worry as much. So have a happy Valentine’s Day and remember that all the candy goes on sale February 15th. That’s something we can all be happy about.

Morse, K. A., & Neuberg, S. L. (2004). How do holidays influence relationship processes and outcomes? Examining the instigating and catalytic effects of Valentine’s Day. Personal Relationships, 11, 509-527.

You can read more about Department of Psychology Visiting Professor Chelsea Reid here.