By Richard J. Loebl, LCSW, BCD
One of my favorite holiday stories is “The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry. Written in 1905, this is a sentimental and ironic Christmas fable about a young married couple who would be considered poor by today’s standards. They could not afford to buy Christmas presents for each other without sacrificing their most prized personal possessions. This unique story of relationship distress during the holidays comes with a surprise ending that offers a moral lesson about gift giving – and illustrates the beauty and innate gifts of a loving relationship.
The one gift that sustains and enriches us throughout the year is the gift of relationship. The experience of love, companionship and emotional security brings us lasting joy and peace. When there is relationship distress, we suffer emotionally – with anxiety, depression and all manner of heartache. The new science of love and relationships reveals the specific gifts of relationship – those acts of love that heal and prevent relationship distress.
Relationship Gift Checklist
This checklist includes 5 categories of relationship gifts. Research studies now reveal the daily practices that create successful relationships. Even when there is significant relationship distress, the following relationship gifts will repair, restore, and revive:
* The Gift of Intimacy – This gift can be given in many different ways, like the others in this checklist. Intimacy is the gift of emotional and physical connection. Physical affection, words of love, interest, attentiveness, and the act of responsiveness are the gifts of intimacy. The lack of intimacy is highly correlated to stress, anxiety and depression.
* The Gift of Friendship – Do you treat your spouse or partner the way you treat your best friend? A lack of friendship is the single most important contributing factor to relationship distress. The gift of friendship includes appreciation, respect, companionship, and partnership. Friends are available to each other – they spend “quality time” together. Wives and husbands do things for each other – they help each other around the house. They know each other; they talk about their days, their accomplishments and their struggles.
* The Gift of Emotional Support – Life can be difficult, and emotional support is one of the most important hallmarks of a loving relationship. Empathy and compassion are the two most important ingredients of emotional support – not rescuing, enabling or fixing the problem. Empathy is a deep emotional connection of understanding – when partners are able to relate to each other authentically and emotionally. Compassion is a deep, emotional sense of caring.
* The Gift of Loving Kindness – This gift is an antidote to anxiety and depression. Loving kindness is based in the practice of mindful loving – an awareness of each other’s feelings and needs without judgment. This gift includes acceptance, validation, and acts of kindness and appreciation.
* The Gift of Harmony – This gift creates peace, serenity, and partnership. The gift of harmony includes patience, acceptance of differences, compromise, and letting things go. “Would you rather be right, or be in relationship?” At times of great relationship distress, forgiveness is the greatest gift of all.
The Gift of Sacrifice
I believe that relationship requires sacrifice. In relationships, we literally share our lives with another person. We sacrifice some aspects of independence for inter-dependence. We sacrifice some quiet time and space for companionship.
In “The Gift of the Magi”, Della’s prize possession is her beautiful, long hair; and Jim’s is the gold watch that belonged to his grandfather. She sells her hair to buy Jim a platinum watch chain. He sells the watch to buy Della an expensive set of mother of pearl hair combs which were stylish for long hair at the turn of the century. On Christmas day they exchange these gifts, which neither of them are able to use as a result of their mutual sacrifice – while realizing how priceless their love is for each other.
O. Henry ends his story by comparing this couple’s sacrifice with the biblical story:
The magi, as you know, were wise men … who brought gifts to the new-born King of the Jews in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones….
O. Henry offers sage relationship advice when he concludes that this young couple…
… most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest… They are the Magi.
Sacrifice is the ultimate act of love. When we give and expect nothing in return, we are likely to be enriched by the abundance in the universe.
Relationship distress is predictable and relationships can be healed with these gifts. For those who want support and guidance from relationship experts, we offer couple therapy, workshops for couples, and weekend retreats and intensive counseling sessions. Please contact us today for more information about our services.