Gazing at bright orange and pink colors streaking across a deepening blue sky at sunset, my husband and I held hands atop a platform on the Eiffel Tower. I thought of the thousands of miles we’d traveled and all the money we’d saved to make this trip to Paris for our 10th wedding anniversary. We’d set the stage for the most romantic evening possible … yet we still ended up with a disappointing experience

The reason my husband held my hand wasn’t pure affection; it was because he was trying to steady me on my feet as I wobbled precariously close to fainting. Standing in the middle of a huge crowd for several hours waiting in line to board a tiny elevator wasn’t so good for a pregnant woman like me. I felt lightheaded (probably from a lack of food and water, which we’d neglected to bring with us since we thought the wait to reach the top of the tower wouldn’t be long), but there was no space to sit down since people were packed tightly around us. Our 7-year-old daughter whined again, “If we can’t go up, can we just go down?” and we had to tell her yet again that the wait for the descending elevator was just as long.

Yes, we were on the Eiffel Tower – the place of our dreams. But we were trapped and miserable.

It didn’t help when storm clouds moved in and unleashed a torrent of rain on us, soon after we finally reached the top. When the lightning bolts lashed out, we figured we’d better get down fast, since it’s not very wise to stand atop a tall metal tower during a thunderstorm. So, out of desperation, we skipped the long line for the descending elevator and started running down the stairs as fast as we could. My husband and daughter bounded ahead of me, leaving me steaming as I struggled to navigate over the slick steps with my bulging belly. Of course, I was much slower than them, so they soon disappeared from sight and I was on my own.

When I finally arrived at the bottom, I was right in the middle of glowing lights in the City of Light, just as I’d dreamed I someday would be. But suffice it to say that I wasn’t exactly feeling romantic. None of the dreaming, planning, saving, traveling, or any other work we’d done to prepare for our big romantic moment at the Eiffel Tower had actually led to experiencing one.

Each Valentine’s Day, couples work hard to plan the most romantic celebrations they can imagine. They often spend lots of money (U.S. consumers spent about $16.9 billion on Valentine’s Day gifts in 2007, according to the National Retail Federation). But, despite all their efforts, many encounter more disappointment than romance – just like my husband and I did at the Eiffel Tower.

If you’ve been married even a short while, you know that even the best laid plans can go awry. So this Valentine’s Day, take the pressure off. Instead of breaking the bank to buy the most elaborate experience or expensive gift you can, express your love to your spouse in simple ways. No matter what happens on the big day, you and your spouse can nurture a meaningful connection if you focus on each other instead of on the trappings of romance.

Here are some ideas for celebrating Valentine’s Day free of romantic pressure:

  • Don’t limit yourself to tradition. No matter how many ads you see for diamond jewelry or fancy cologne, despite how many boxes of chocolate and bottles of wine you walk past in the stores, nothing says that you have to buy traditional Valentine’s Day products to have a romantic holiday. By the same token, there’s no reason you can’t celebrate a fulfilling holiday without investing in expensive traditional Valentine’s Day experiences like eating out and taking trips. Be creative. If you have an idea that doesn’t fit the mold of what’s traditionally considered romantic, go ahead and pursue it anyway. For example, maybe you and your spouse are looking forward to choosing materials for a home improvement project you plan to work on together. In that case, you both might actually enjoy spending Valentine’s Day shopping at hardware store, however unromantic that might seem to others.
  • Ask instead of assuming. Don’t worry about trying to figure out on your own what to get your spouse for Valentine’s Day. Rather than just working from your assumptions, ask your spouse what best communicates love to him or her. Although you may think your husband will enjoy eating out at an elegant restaurant, he may actually be hoping that you’ll spend a quiet evening at home. You may look forward to surprising your wife with a new silk nightgown, when what she really wants is a handwritten love letter. Before making your Valentine’s Day plans, ask your spouse to let you know what specific ways you can make the holiday special for him or her. Be willing to sacrifice what you think would be best for what your spouse would enjoy the most – even if you don’t relate to your spouse’s choices. Keep the focus on honoring and blessing your spouse rather than indulging your own desires.
  • Notice what you already have. Realize that you and your spouse don’t have to do something wildly romantic together in order to appreciate each other. Take the time to consider some of the many ways your spouse acts in love toward you every day, and use Valentine’s Day to express your appreciation – both by letting your spouse know that you notice what he or she does for you, and by making a concerted effort to bless your spouse through small yet meaningful acts of affection (such as giving him or her a massage) and service (like taking over one of your spouse’s household chores when he or she is especially tired).
  • Celebrate the greatest love of all. Remember that the greatest love story isn’t about you and your spouse, or any other couple, no matter how romantic. Even Saint Valentine served the One who is the source of all love – Jesus. And the love Jesus has for you and your spouse is greater than even the most exciting romantic thrills you can experience together. So ask your spouse to join you in prayer this Valentine’s Day, letting Jesus know how grateful you are for His love in your lives, and loving Him back through your worship.