I came to a hopeful and painful realization this past Christmas – hopeful, because I realized how much I have grown in learning how to love my husband, but painful because it showed me how many times I had failed to love him well over the past six years. It happened when we were opening presents.
One thing I have always known about my husband is that he loves receiving gifts. It makes him feel incredibly loved (as the love language test we took when we were engaged confirmed).
I, on the other hand, hate gift-giving. It’s one of my least favorite pastimes. It doesn’t come naturally to me, and stresses me out. I agonize over what someone might want, wonder if I’m being fair in what gifts I’m giving to whom, and just generally go crazy over the purchasing of any gift – whether it’s a small souvenir or a more substantial present.
But back to Christmas morning…
My husband told me how much he liked the presents I had found, bought, wrapped and themed for him. Yes, themed – I had written little notes to explain how each present was related to a special theme I had crafted for him. I was very glad he liked them, as I had spent a good amount of time planning and executing the gifts.
It made me think back to the first Christmas we celebrated together. I had run to a few stores on Christmas Eve hastily finding presents for him which I threw in whatever leftover gift bags I could find. The gifts I picked out were all things I would have liked to receive myself – vaguely related to his interests, but definitely in my style and satisfying my desire for what gifts should look like. He let me know later that he felt pretty sad about Christmas gifts that year.
Believe it or not, I couldn’t fathom why he was disappointed that first Christmas. I got him things he should like! I liked them! And I thought about him while I was shopping! And I got him several gifts! What more could someone want?
Slowly, over time, as I learn to chip away at my massive block of selfishness, I have come to see how focused I was on myself that Christmas, and on many gift-giving occasions afterwards. It has taken me years to stop loving him only in the way I prefer to show love, and to finally realize that maybe he would feel more loved a different way—a way that is not comfortable for me.
I’m sure I have much more to learn in the “how to love your spouse well” arena, if that small light bulb moment took so many years to figure out, but this Christmas taught me that growth is possible.
One of the principles underpinning “the love languages” is that each of us feels loved in different, specific ways. The more each person in a relationship tries to understand how the other feels loved, the more understanding and communication can develop. And as that develops, each person feels more cared for and appreciated.
My husband noticed how much time and attention I gave to gift-giving this Christmas — and I enjoy the end result of his happiness and appreciation, despite the challenge it is for me to think about and find gifts. This has made us more in tune with each other, and more satisfied with life in general.
So learn from my mistakes and successes. Take a love language test. Or just ask your spouse how he or she feels the most loved. And then don’t sit on that information — use it. Even if it is difficult or uncomfortable. You’ll both be much better for it.