The couples massage: right there next to a heart-shaped box of chocolate, a gushy card, and a bouquet of red roses, it's one of the most classic Valentine's Day gifts out there.
Any spa brochure will describe it as a relaxing, soothing, and romantic self-care experience for a couple to enjoy together, but the indulgence is actually weighted in quite a few benefits — not just for your physical and mental health, but for the health of your relationship, too.
"A couples massage creates an experience of being connected in a softer energy than what the outside world pushes on us," Dana McNeil, a licenced marriage and family therapist and founder of The Relationship Place in San Diego, California, says.
"Massages allow for each partner to experience a lowered heart rate, lose the need to participate in physical activity or anxious thinking, and allow each person the ability to experience peace and tranquility in the presence of a partner."
This stress-relieving state, in turn, allows for the possibility of opening up emotionally with your partner, as well as letting go of defences you might be holding against your partner.
"Because both partners feel less anxious and stressed, and more connected at the end of the massage, they are often more able to sit quietly with one another without feeling anxious to rush and fill the void of conversation," McNeil notes.
"Having a massage invites reflection and quiet connection that may otherwise feel unfamiliar, or even uncomfortable, for some partners."
It's not all courtesy of the candlelight and mood music, though. Science is at play.
In addition to a plethora of physical benefits, Amanda Berman, a licenced massage therapist with Zeel, says that massage promotes the release of endorphins, "the brain's happy-feel good chemicals, which aid in reducing stress, depression, and anxiety while at the same time helping us to feel more energized."
McNeil adds that when you take part in a soothing activity, the body's process of producing cortisol — the stress hormone — can be slowed or extinguished.
"Massage allows for a release of the pent-up emotional energy that triggers increased stress and inability to be empathetic or compromise with a partner," she explains.
"A couples massage can allow for both partners to simultaneously come to a place of lowered stress and cortisol release, thus allowing for more level-headed conversations and the ability to acknowledge a partner's needs."
If you plan on booking your first couples massage, Berman suggests starting with a 60-minute session of their preferred method of massage — for example: deep tissue, Swedish, or hot stone.
"If one partner prefers a deep tissue massage and the other a Swedish, go for it — they do not need to book an identical treatment," Berman adds.
"We are still individuals within our relationship and our choice in massage style should reflect that as well. The massage therapy team for a couples massage will familiarize themselves with the couple as a whole and still have an individualized treatment plan for each partner."