Studio 5 contributor and licensed therapist Julie Hanks, LCSW shares meaningful gifts of self to give your spouse this Christmas.
The most meaningful Christmas gifts don’t require much money, but do require thought, time, and awareness. Though it’s fun to shop and wrap gifts, we ultimately all wish for the same emotional gifts from our spouse — things that can’t be purchased – gifts of self. We all long for reassurance that we are loved and cherished, for comfort when we are sad or hurt or scared, and for validation that our experience matters to the person we love the most. Even if your husband doesn’t have the words to express these wishes, he longs for the same emotional gifts too. Here are some ideas to get you started thinking less about gifts you can buy and more about gifts you can offer from your heart.
1. Gift of Emotions
Tell your emotional truth
Too often, in an effort not to hurt your spouse’s feelings, you may have stopped expressing the full range of emotions – your hurts, your fears, your anger and your joys, and dreams. “I don’t want to be a nag” or “I ‘m supposed to be nice and happy all of the time” are common phrases I hear in my therapy office as reasons women stop expressing themselves. It’s helpful to consider that intimacy means “into-me-see” or see into me. True intimacy requires a deep level of emotional honesty and the tender expression of a full range of emotions, not just the good, happy, nice ones. Your thoughts, your feelings, and your expression of them are what make you uniquely you.
Ask for what you really want
Sending clear signals about what you need emotionally from your spouse can be difficult. It requires an internal awareness and a willingness to ask deeper questions that go below the surface. Behind every complaint and criticism you have for your spouse is an emotional plea for closeness. Practice going below the complaint and expressing the emotional need directly. Instead of saying, “You always work so much! Are you going to be working until 8PM forever? I’m sick of eating dinner alone.” try saying, “I want to spend more time with you. I’m afraid that I’m not important to you. Can we plan a date night for this weekend?” Trust me. Being direct with your emotional needs is a gift to him.
More gifts of emotion:
Write a handwritten love letter describing in detail what you love your spouse and what they mean to you.
Write an apology of letter or forgiveness for past hurts.
Share your “Bucket List” with your spouse.
2. Gift of Attention
Push the pause button
When is the last time you really listened to your spouse? Do often find that you’re so busy with children, household chores, or other commitments that you rarely look your spouse in the eye and talk? If your conversations with your hubby are while you’re multitasking – unloading the dishwasher or texting or watching TV, you may want to practice “pushing the pause button”. If you’re focused on other things, you’ll miss the meaning behind what your hubby is trying to tell you. Too often couples I see in my practice are so distracted by other activities or so busy reacting from their own intense emotions that they completely bypass the emotional meaning of their spouse’s expression.
Here’s an example of how this might play out in a therapy session. In an effort to reach out to his wife John says, “I really miss you. You’ve been so preoccupied since our son was born. Let’s spend some alone time together.”
Megan responds defensively, “I’m trying to be a good mother. You know this is all new for me. I’m overwhelmed and I’m trying to be there for you – can’t you see that?
Megan, flooded by her own emotions missed John’s main message of, “I miss you. I need you” and she heard some version of “You’re not good enough.”
If Megan had “paused” her emotions response and slowed down her reaction enough to hear his emotional message she might have said something like, “Oh, John, you really miss me and want to spend time together. Thank you for reassuring me of that.” Then once John is heard, Megan can share with John how she is feeling about the transition to motherhood. Putting your emotions temporarily on hold and really hearing your spouse is truly a gift.
Learn to speak his love language
Ask your hubby how he feels most loved and learn to be more proficient in his “language”. Gary Chapman, author of The Five Love Languages, identified distinct categories of how people experience love: physical touch, words of affirmation, acts of service, quality time, and gifts. Couples often give love in their own language instead of in their partner’s language. For example, if your husband’s primary love language is acts of service then make a special home cooked meal, or surprise him by doing all of his household chores. If his language is physical touch, actively approach him for a hug and kiss, hold his hand, sit by him, initiate physical intimacy more often. Offering love in his language will help him feel deeply loved by you.
More gifts of attention:
Ask him about the times he feels most loved and cherished. Take notes and do something from his list every day for a week.
Plan a candlelight dinner, turn off all electronics, and talk.
Plan a playful night of physical intimacy with your spouse.
3. Gift of Memories
Keep track of the good stuff
Do you keep a mental note of your spouse’s failings, or of past hurts or offenses? This year try write your hubby a Christmas letter recounting all of the good times, family milestones, and positive relationship moments. I knew a couple who did this for a few decades now enjoy a beautiful book containing years of personal expressions celebrating their memories of each year, significant family events, and the evolution of their love. To reflect on tender feelings and focus on the positive memories created through the years will validated that your husband is indeed cherished and loved.
Revisit the romance
Often I hear couples complain that they feel more like roommates than lovers.
After the initial infatuation of new relationships has faded, reclaiming and rekindling those romantic feelings takes…effort.
When is the last time you talked with your spouse about early romantic feelings that brought you together, browsed through your wedding photo book, or looked through photos of your favorite vacations? You don’t have to take a trip to the location of your honeymoon or first date to rekindle romance, just take a trip with your hubby down memory lane.
More gifts of memories:
Create a photo book of your favorite memories.
Create a relationship soundtrack CD with a mix of songs that have special meaning to you.
Plan a date to revisit a visiting a romantic location that has special meaning to you as a couple.
Julie de Azevedo Hanks, LCSW, licensed therapist and owner & director of Wasatch Family Therapy specializes in women’s emotional health and couples counseling. Visit www.wasatchfamilytherapy.com for individual, couple, family, & group counseling and education designed to strengthen you and your family. For additional self-improvement & relationship resources connect with me at www.juliehanks.com.