Exercise tolerance. Remember that everyone is flawed so give the gift of accepting your spouse's foibles. Be tolerant and adjust to, or overlook, the irritants. Psychologist Carl Rogers uses this analogy to capture the need to accept those we love as they are: "When I walk on the beach to watch the sunset I do not call out, `A little more orange over to the right, please,' or `Would you mind giving us less purple in the back?' No, I enjoy the always-different sunsets as they are. We do well to do the same with people we love."
Give your spouse the right to an occasional flunk. Give the gift of understanding when your spouse simply blows it. Picture the two of you arriving at a hotel, exhausted and eager for a hot bath and a comfortable bed. However, when you arive there are no reservations - the letter your spouse sent to the hotel making arrangements has the wrong date on it. Now picture yourself saying, "Honey, don't worry. We'll find something else."That is a significant gift. So was the gesture of a husband who was learning to give his wife much more room to make mistakes without criticism or penalty. Said he, "I'm making progress. My wife backed the camper into the side of the garage and damaged the shell. The only comment I made was, `Honey, are you all right?' "
Be the first to make changes. Many couples get stuck in repetitive behaviors that they could change if just one partner took the initiative to get unstuck. So why not give the gift of keeping the relationship in repair this coming year? In his book "No Longer Strangers," the Rev. Bruce Larson tells about a woman who complained to him, "My husband and I never quarrel. We simply have no relationship anymore. He comes home from work, has dinner, watches television and goes to bed. He has been like this for years."
"Do you love him?" the minister asked.
"Yes," she said, "but I'm sure he doesn't love me, or he wouldn't be so cold and indifferent."
"Why do you think he comes home every night instead of spending his time with someone else?" said Larson. "Perhaps he's hoping that one day something will happen to rekindle the love you shared when you first married. What would happen if, after dinner, you put on something sexy and curled up beside him on the couch?"
"He might laugh at me."
A few days later Larson received a letter from the wife: "Guess what? He didn't laugh."
One way of keeping a relationship in repair is to keep it out of trouble. Elizabeth tried this one day when she was traveling by car with her husband Jim to a distant city. Tired and hot, the couple began bickering. Suddenly, Elizabeth said, "We really don't have much time together and I feel bad we're not enjoying the time we do have. How would you feel about just erasing the slate and starting over?"
After a short silence, Jim said simply, "Thanks, we needed that."
Savor the special moments in your marriage. Are you prone to complain about negative experiences you have with your spouse instead of savoring positive ones? Then give the gift of sharing your pleasure when special moments occur in your relationship. Judith Viorst writes about Elsa, who became involved in an argument with her husband Steve that began before breakfast and continued as Steve started off to work.
"How can you just go off like that?" cried Elsa. "We haven't settled a thing?"
Then Steve did what most ambitious and driven men will not do, relates Elsa. He went to the phone and canceled all his appointments for the day, "saying to me, in effect, that our relationship meant more than business mettings, saying that I'd married a man who would sacrifice work for love."
And that was a special moment in Elsa's marriage that she and Steve could reminisce over for many years to come.
In addition to savoring special moments in your relationship, also create them. Consider the challenge of committing to a ratio of 10 positives to every negative you give to others.
Go the extra mile. Give gifts by extending simple actions that symbolize genuine caring - favors, kind words, a helping hand. Your gift may be as small as getting your spouse a drink of water or as large as willingly driving 50 miles to take him or her car keys to replace the ones locked in the back of the trunk. Whether small or large, the important thing is to give your gift in a way that conveys the message: "I love you and your comfort is important to me."
A gift for children. The gifts you give to your spouse you can also give to your children. In doing so, you give them the ultimate gifts of well-being and security.