Screen Shot 2014-01-07 at 9.42.24 AMThere are a number of varying opinions on the origin of Valentine’s Day. One legend says it was named after the Roman priest, Valentine, in the 3rd century. He was executed for performing the marriage ceremony for young couples despite the Emperor Claudius’ edict that forbade marriage because “unmarried men made better soldiers than married men.” Another thought, broadcast by National Public Radio, stated that the name came about as the result of a mix-up. In the same century Normans celebrated Galatin’s Day, and Galatin, which meant “lover of women ” also sounds much like Valentine.

Whatever the origin of Valentine’s Day, we’re all aware of the profusion of cards, candy, jewelry, and so forth, shared on that date with the objects of our affections. While these are all wonderful and generally appreciated by the recipients, there is something even more important we can share with our loved ones—especially with our mates of many years. I call it respectful listening.

Often I hear stories from retired couples that they’ve been together so long they know exactly what the other person is going to say. While that might speak of a special kind of compatibility, it can also be evidence of a communication breakdown. If you already know what your partner is going to say, how well do you listen to what he or she is actually saying—or even more important, what your mate means by a particular comment?

In a retirement marriage, it’s easy to get caught up in that kind of familiarity because couples who have been together for a long time often do begin to think alike. However, falling regularly into the practice of anticipating another’s response, risks damaging the richness of the relationship. It can stifle your partner’s creativity and ability to offer new suggestions or opinions. It can also develop into a habit of not really listening to what your spouse is actually saying.

In my conversations with women about retirement, I have learned that a willingness to listen is one of the most valued traits a mate can possess. Perhaps the best Valentine gift we can give one another this year is a commitment to listen to—and value—what our spouse says to us. Imagine how many wonderful Valentine’s Day (and beyond) conversations will be in store for you.

What do you love most about Valentine’s Day?  Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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