I don’t really keep this a secret, but gift-giving isn’t my favorite when it comes to the holidays.

Crazy, right?

Don’t get me wrong. I love seeing the joy on my kids and grandkids faces when they open up something they’ve wanted and are surprised by it. I enjoy the time we’re gathered as a family. I just don’t enjoy the selecting of gifts, the wrapping of gifts, or dealing with gifts in general.

Maybe I’m not the only one.

A few years ago, Mark and I decided to actually stop exchanging physical gifts at Christmas. Instead we try to give our marriage time, energy, and focus in some way.

So today I want to ask you a question you’ve probably rarely been asked:

What are you getting your marriage for Christmas?

Think about that for a moment.

Your marriage is the foundation of your parenting. Your marriage is designed to last a lifetime. Your marriage is one tool God uses to grow and mature you. But it’s rarely at the top of the list of what we invest in.

So what does it mean to get our marriage something for Christmas? Well, here are a few ideas. And get this… they cost nothing more than intentionality.

Let’s get started:

1) The Gift of Listening

Can we be honest for a moment? Most of us aren’t really that great at listening to our spouse. Like really listening. We usually are listening to form a response rather than listening to truly understand.

A shift I’ve found helpful? Intentionally listening with both my eyes and ears, and focusing on the feeling of my lips actually staying closed. Maybe this sounds silly, but those have been really valuable strategies I use to give this gift in my own marriage.

(P.S. God has a lot to say about listening as well. Here’s a list.)

2) The Gift of Realistic Expectations

Whew… this is a big one. Our years of coaching hurting couples and dealing with our own hurting relationship have caused us to conclude that the number one cause of divorce isn’t money, sex, infidelity, or communication. Those are secondary issues of a deeper issue. They are symptoms of the root issue of unmet expectations. When we adjust our expectations it’s less about how my spouse needs to change or get better and more about how I need to accept them as they are.

Getting our expectations under control has a ripple effect in nearly every area of our marriage! This is what makes this such a meaningful gift to give this Christmas.

3) The Gift of Forgiveness

We’re always going to bump up against the imperfection of our spouse. But too often we take those experiences and store them away in our heart as grudges (and after enough time, this usually leads to an explosion). When instead, our first response should actually be to forgive our spouse so that we can communicate in both truth and grace.

The shift I have found interesting about forgiveness in my own mind is realizing that it has a lot less to do about the relationship between my husband and I. And it has a lot more to do with how open my heart is to be used by God in my marriage and my life.

4) The Gift of Freedom to Be Themselves

The truth is we’re all wonderfully incompatible, and marriage simply brings a magnifying glass to those differences. If we don’t learn to accept one another, distance grows in our relationship. If that distance isn’t addressed, this can lead us to rejection, which puts miles between our hearts.

Instead of being frustrated with each other’s personalities and temperaments, this Christmas let’s put in the work to increase our curiosity and learn how to be fascinated by what makes us different!

5) The Gift of Safe Communication

It’s not uncommon for conversations, especially around decision-making, to be a challenging dynamic in marriages. What’s meant to be a simple discussion leads to frustration and one person just “giving in” to limit the feelings of conflict. Over time, though, this leads to growing feelings of frustration and resentment. And these are dynamics we often end up working through during our marriage intensives with couples.

A key shift we’ve been focusing on the past few years has been helping couples start focusing on having “safe conversations.”

This incorporates listening first, repeating back what we heard, and a whole lot of the phrase, “Tell me more about that.” It also allows only one persons thoughts to be shared at a time. You can learn more about one type of safe conversation here, and even more about them by becoming a No More Perfect Date Night member. (Membership is currently closed to the general public but we’ve created a private join page here for those who read this post!)

6) The Gift of Dreaming Together

Mark and I just finished clarifying our plan and goals for 2022, so this is fresh on my mind! It is so common for couples to dream about the future when they’re dating, but as marriage goes on, they find themselves much more focused on the day-to-day details.

This is a natural progression with caring for kids, navigating daily stresses, and keeping a family afloat, but it also removes a layer of unity in a marriage.

This Christmas, I want to encourage you to sit down and consider dreaming a little bit with your spouse. Set some goals you can pursue together. Utilize a safe conversation to hear what’s on each of your hearts. You can learn more about doing this on this podcast episode!

7) The Gift of Connection

On a recent podcast, Mark and I shared something we read from Dr. Jennifer Degler, who recommends that couples have 15 minutes of connection each day, plus connecting one night a week, one day a month, and one weekend a quarter!

Now it’s not possible to get this point at the snap of a finger. But it comes down to intentionally prioritizing connection with one another! Our marriage can’t go on the back-burner. This is the relationship that matters most, and it’s only strengthened through connection.

How can you give the gift of connection this Christmas and as we head into 2022?

8) The Gift of Time

What a beautiful gift this is! Sometimes this might be time to do a project they’ve wanted to do, time to do something special they’ve been interested in, time for connection, or simply the time to listen carefully.

Your marriage deserves the gift of time. In fact, it’s the relationship that deserves your time the most.

9) The Gift of Touch

Especially in our current world of increased physical isolation, this gift is all the more meaningful. This doesn’t have to mean sexual touch. It can be the touch of a shoulder, a long hug, holding your spouse’s hand, or just resting your head on their shoulder. This builds intimacy and connection.

But maybe it does mean the gift of sexual touch! Intentionally providing space for that is an important part of deep intimacy in your marriage.

(P.S. On the note of sexual touch, want to know what my most-listened-to episode this past year was? It was “An Honest Conversation About Sex with Jennifer Degler.” If this is a challenging topic, this may be a good episode to listen to. You can find it here.)

10) The Gift of Encouragement

Our tendency is to see the things our spouse isn’t, rather than encourage them in the things that they are. What a powerful shift this would be in each of our marriages if we flipped that around!

Write a short note that highlights something you love about your spouse. Send a text that acknowledges something they did. Use any time you have for connection to encourage them in how God has created them.

So there it is! These are 10 (free) things you can give your spouse this Christmas. Even small shifts can truly be game-changers in the long-term health of a marriage. We see it all the time. If you’re not sure where to start, I encourage you to just pick one from this list!

Prefer to listen? I walk through some of these in this podcast episode.

Looking for deeper help in your marriage? Maybe consider giving your marriage the gift of a Hope Renewed Marriage Intensive next year.

I’m curious: Which one stood out to you? Do you plan to give one of these gifts to your marriage this Christmas?

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