Navigating Valentine’s Day and Intimate Partner Violence

Valentine’s Day conjures up all of the traditional images of love: happy couples, flowers, gifts, and grand gestures. In recent years the marketing of this holiday has answered the call to expand this imagery to be more inclusive to those of all orientations and relationship statuses. Despite this, for those impacted by intimate partner violence (IPV), Valentine’s Day can still be difficult and sometimes even dangerous.

Increased Risk of Abuse

According to Statistics Canada, over the past 5 years there has been a steady increase in police reports of domestic and intimate partner violence. In addition to this, reports of violence consistently increase around holidays: a study by the University of Calgary specifically noted an increase in domestic violence calls to authorities around Valentine’s Day. The reasons behind this increase may vary, but in many cases this may be attributed to the added pressure to appease partners through acts of love and affection. Rachel Williams, a domestic violence survivor, explained what it was like living with her abuser on Valentine’s Day, telling The Independent: “You are trying to play the loving girlfriend, wife or fiancée to pacify the domestic terrorist you are living with….Domestic terrorists abuse 365 days of the year but it is that one day [Valentine’s Day], like with Christmas, where you have got that added pressure on you as a victim”. Rachel’s testimony demonstrates how those that are in the midst of an abusive situation may find themselves particularly vulnerable if they are perceived to fall short of expectations.

Trauma Triggers for Survivors

During February, it’s difficult to avoid Valentine’s Day imagery. Whether you are shopping or scrolling through social media, you’re sure to be exposed to reminders of romance and depictions of picture perfect love. For those who have taken the courageous step to leave their abuser, the recurrent imagery may trigger reminders of their abuser that can make this day particularly challenging. Their abuser may have used tactics synonymous with Valentine’s Day like love bombing or gift giving to apologize for abusive behaviour. Alternatively, the Valentine’s Day imagery may remind them of good times with their abuser and result in feelings of temptation to return to them. Since survivors of abuse are prone to long term consequences such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and increased risk for developing substance addictions, this increased exposure to triggers may also result in worsened symptoms or increased urges towards substance abuse.

How to Provide Support this Valentine’s Day

If you think you may be experiencing IPV, the Canadian Women’s Foundation can help you understand your situation and the help that is available. Reach out to a trusted person in your life for support and assistance seeking help. For additional resources, please see the list below.

If you are a survivor of IPV, there is no one right way to feel or cope with any feelings that may arise around Valentine’s Day. It is important to be kind and patient with yourself and to take time to do things that empower you and make you feel good. Surrounding yourself with family or friends who support you can also ease any difficulties you might be experiencing during this time. If you need additional support, see the list below for additional resources.

If you know a survivor of IPV, take the time to reach out and remind them that you’re available for support in any way they need.

If you know someone currently experiencing IPV, it can be daunting to determine the best and safest ways to offer support. The Canadian Women’s Foundation can help you begin to conceptualize how to help someone living with violence. For additional resources, see the list below. 

National Services and Resources – Information to help connect women and their children across Canada with the nearest shelter for safety and support.

Crisis Text Line – Free, 24/7 support for those in crisis, connecting people in crisis to trained crisis responders.

“Signal for Help” – A one-handed sign someone can use on a video call to let others know that they want others to check in with them.

MyPlan Canada – A free app to help you with your safety and well-being if you have experienced abuse from a current or past partner.

Kids Help Phone – Chat with a trained volunteer crisis responder for support any time, about anything, via text message. 

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