Whether we’re walking through the grocery store, watching TV, or scrolling through Instagram, every year in February we are bombarded with happy couples, roses, heart-shaped treats, and all other symbols of love. While this time of year can be romantic for some, it can be difficult for others. It’s easy to dismiss someone’s aversion to Valentine’s Day as bitterness over being single, or as a distaste for commercialism but there are many other reasons why February 14th may cause negative feelings, including being a survivor of intimate partner violence (IPV).
People who are currently experiencing intimate partner violence, or who have experienced IPV in the past, may be triggered by Valentine’s Day for many reasons, including:
Added Pressure on People Experiencing Abuse
A study by the University of Calgary found an increase in domestic violence calls to authorities around Valentine’s Day. Due to the added pressure to show love and affection on February 14, people who are experiencing abuse may be coerced to appease their partners, physically, verbally, sexually, or otherwise. Rachel Williams, a domestic violence survivor explained what it was like living with her abuser on Valentine’s Day by telling The Independent “you are trying to play the loving girlfriend, wife or fiancée to pacify the domestic terrorist you are living with.”
Reminders of Love Bombing
At the beginning and throughout an abusive relationship, abusers often use love bombing as an effective tool to exert coercive control over their partner. Gifts like flowers, chocolates, and jewelry, which are staples of Valentine’s Day, can also be painful reminders of the manipulative behaviours of an abusive partner and of the trauma that you have been subjected to
Intimate Partner Violence is Not Uncommon
Feelings of Unworthiness
Valentine’s Day evokes an idealized notion of love, and in today’s social media centric society, the pressure for couples to showcase their love is amplified. For survivors of IPV, these public/online displays of idealized romance and intimacy can be a painful reminder of what should have been normal, but wasn’t and can stir up feelings of unworthiness and depression.
Loneliness and Doubts
Due to the nature of Valentine’s Day, it can be easy to feel lonely and fall back into the cycle of reminiscing on the good times you had with an abusive partner and feeling compassion towards them. Even in abusive relationships, there are good days and those are what keeps a survivor going. On average, it takes a woman seven attempts to leave an abusive relationship for good.
Increasingly, the narrative around Valentine’s Day is changing to be more inclusive of different types of love (romantic love, platonic love, self-love, etc.). Although love isn’t reserved for intimate partner relationships, not everyone is ready to reclaim February 14 and no amount of marketing or reframing can change that. Before you jump to conclusions about someone’s negative feelings towards Valentine’s Day, we encourage you to remind yourself and others around you that IPV knows no boundaries. It can affect those of any race, religion, social class, sexual orientation, (dis)abilities, and gender identity. You never know what someone is going through. If you know a survivor of IPV, make sure to check in on them around February 14 and offer your support.
If you are a survivor of IPV, there is no right way to cope with the feelings that may arise around Valentine’s Day, but we encourage you to be kind to yourself and take time to do things that empower you and make you feel good. Try to surround yourself with family or friends who support you. If you need additional support, see the list below for additional resources.
National Services and Resources
ShelterSafe.ca – 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.
If you are in an emergency situation, please access 9-1-1 (in Canada) for emergency services in your area. If you are outside the 9-1-1 service area, please access available emergency services in your area.