By Neil J. Lavender, Ph.D.
So let me ask you this. If you were a billionaire, would you give your spouse a few million? Think that over for a second or two.
When I ask my marriage counseling couples this question, I get a resounding “YES!!!!” “Of course, I really love my spouse,” or “I’d give him everything I own.” Or my favorite, which is, “Are you kidding? I would take a bullet for my wife.”
I love that. This is the stuff that keeps me counseling. Most couples, even when they are in crisis, truly do love one another; they just haven’t found the tools yet to make it work.
What’s this have to do with “the secret gift”?
Let me continue.
During the first few hours of couples counseling, one of the things that I often have my couples do is to make a list of unresolved differences. This usually takes a bit of time, but is worth the effort as unresolved differences are often at the heart and soul of marital distress. So let’s say, for example, that Maria and Sam argue over how they are going to spend the holidays. Sam’s family is huge, incredibly extroverted, and throw one wild Christmas party! In Maria’s family, there is just her mother and her sister and they prefer small gatherings. They will go to Sam’s family’s parties when pushed, but usually leave after an hour or so, much to Sam’s chagrin.
The arguments begin.
Or this example. Tom and Marianne have been fighting over this one for years. When Tom comes home from his job, which requires him to work in the sun for long hours, he is exhausted and wants to go to his man cave and work on his classic car restoration. Marianne, on the contrary, has had her hands full with the children and her part-time job from which she works out of her home. She is obviously relieved to see him—in large part for some help, or even just to spend some time together after a long day. Tom claims he is too tired and needs to “recharge” his batteries before he can join the family. This leads to fights that are often nasty, long and seemingly unresolveable.
The reader may have guessed at the room for some compromise here. Spend one year at Sam’s and the next at Maria’s, right? Or how about this, we do it Tom’s way one day and Marianne’s the next. Case closed.
In some cases that might be the solution. I like compromise, but I also think it’s highly overrated. It’s not my first choice as a marriage counselor and I think that we can do better. This is where “The Secret Gift” comes in.
Whether they know it or not, both of these couples have an excellent opportunity to turbocharge their marriage and grow even closer.
At about this time, I remind the couples that they both said at the beginning of counseling that they would give one another huge amounts of money if they had it. Clearly, most couples don’t have this kind of money, but they are rich in many other ways. One way is to simply do what the other person wants most desperately for them to do.
But isn’t that just “giving in” to their spouse? Absolutely not. That will just make the conceding party resentful.
Here, their mindset changes. They are to do this as a gift. There are no strings attached and there is nothing expected in return. It is freely given; it is joyfully given. Call it a rare and invaluable gift of love.
So let’s get back to our couples. There are lots of possibilities here, Sam, for example, might decide to never again bring up the fact that Maria’s family leaves early. He does this freely and without resentment. He does this as a gift, recognizing that he is giving his wife one of the things she desires tremendously to have. He should recognize that his gift is best when given secretly; in other words, he doesn’t have to tell Maria he’s doing it; he just does it.
In Tom and Marianne’s case, Marianne might decide to take the children for one more hour as a gift to Tom. She might, for example, say something like “you look so tired today. Why don’t you go in the garage and work on your cars? I’m good here.”
But isn’t this hard? Sometimes. But let’s consider the fact that they have already said they would give their spouse millions of dollars. This costs them nothing. And the gains?
They are enormous, and the return on this investment can be astounding. Consider this: Tom’s heart melts at the marvelously giving heart his wife has. He begins to brag to his friends about how wonderful his wife is. In response to her kindness, he somehow finds the money that allows her to go visit her cousins in Colorado this summer. She in turn gives him those back massages he’s been requesting for so long.
And Maria and Sam? Maria cannot believe how kind her husband is. She begins to make more of the foods he likes and takes money from her own account to buy him a new set of golf clubs and surprise him with a three-day golf outing with his buddies. In return, he decides to spend Christmas and Thanksgiving with his wife’s family.
Suddenly, things with both couples begin to snowball (in a good way) with acts of love and appreciation abounding.
So, what about your own marriage? Well, most likely you answered “Yes” to the opening question in this blog post; if you had a billion, you would give your spouse a few million, right?
Listen: You are rich in “secret gifts”; don’t be so stingy with them. Start giving them away. It will cost you nothing.
And the returns? Incalculable.