I have a wealthy friend who gave his wife something for Christmas that didn’t cost any money. He presented her with a card that said, “I’m giving you a year of my pursuing gentleness and patience.”
My friend had gifted his wife plenty of expensive items through the years that resulted in a kiss or a “Thank you, that’s so thoughtful!” This was the first present he gave her (other than her engagement ring) that caused her to cry tears of joy. He was giving her himself. For years, she had been asking for him to see her, hear her and treat her in a way that made her feel cherished. She wanted something most of us desire: an intimate, emotionally connected marriage.
When I asked Lisa to marry me, she didn’t have a car, a job or even $1,000 to her name. I just wanted her and was thrilled when she said yes. I didn’t bring much into the marriage either, by the way: a 10-year-old Ford Maverick Grabber, an English literature degree and a summer job with no guarantee of an income in the fall. But that, apparently, was enough for Lisa. On our wedding day, all we could give to each other was ourselves. Thirty-six years later, it’s still what both of us want.
We don’t get married to slowly become strangers. Yet life seems determined to pull us apart. Why not use Christmas as a chance to “regift” ourselves to our spouses? It may be the best Christmas present yet. In a way, it is a reenactment of our engagement. Isn’t engagement essentially saying, I’m giving you myself ?
Here are some practical ways you can gift “yourself” to your spouse.
Kill the spiders
Brent married a woman whose dad was an alcoholic. Brent doesn’t believe the Bible explicitly prohibits all alcohol use, and he enjoyed an occasional beer. Whenever his wife smelled it on his breath, however, it brought back horrific memories from her childhood. All the defense mechanisms that her mind had constructed to protect herself from her father launched themselves with ferocity to protect herself from him. Brent realized if he wanted to be one with her, drinking was not a risk he was willing to take. He stopped drinking—or as I call it, he killed a spider.
I have nothing against spiders, per se. They don’t scare me, but my wife hates when they find their way into our house, and she’s a fierce advocate of “cleanliness is next to godliness,” so she loathes spider webs. If I see a spider, to please Lisa, I kill it. Not because the spider bugs me, but because it bugs my wife.
One of the best things you can do to give yourself to each other is to start ruthlessly killing “spiritual spiders.” A spiritual spider is anything rooted in your spouse’s past or present that haunts her, hurts her, discourages her or makes her feel distant from you. Killing such a spider is about making your spouse feel safe and connected.
Choosing your spouse
Rae fell in love with Curtis, who is passionately devoted to Christ. His faith drew her to him first and foremost. One day he confessed that it really bothered him when she watched a popular reality television show. “That show represents everything we don’t believe,” Curtis pointed out, “and it attacks practically everything we do believe.” Because Curtis is in med school, they don’t have a lot of free time together. He wanted what little time they did have to be spent doing things they could both enjoy.
Rae chose to give up watching that series. She realized Curtis wasn’t being controlling—he was simply calling her to join him in recreation they could mutually enjoy during an especially busy season.
Some spouses might protest: “I like an occasional beer!” “I enjoy watching that show!” “Why should I give that up just because my spouse has a problem with it?”
If you want an intimate marriage, you need to realize that an individual-but-isolating preference is costing you more than the hobby is worth. By definition, giving costs something—in order to give something to someone, you have to give something up (the money it costs to buy, the time you spend to pick it out, the fact that it now belongs to that person and not to you). An intimate marriage is built on finding those spiders to kill and being ruthless with anything that doesn’t make your spouse feel safe, cherished and connected to you.
Cassie has a penchant for junk food. Her husband is a “read the labels” kind of guy who thinks if God doesn’t grow it, people shouldn’t eat it.
While Cassie agrees with him, she still enjoys food she knows disgusts him. So she kept her eating habits secret by hiding food wrappers. Every time she did that, however, or stole off by herself to gulp something down in private, Cassie felt worse and more distant from her husband. She felt judged even though he didn’t know anything about what she was doing.
A friend encouraged Cassie to be honest with him. “You’re not giving him a chance to accept you.” So Cassie took a risk and confessed.
To her amazement, he responded with grace. “I don’t want you to hide from me,” he said. In fact, he began bringing home her favorite candy bar every Friday night for a weekend treat. Eating it in the open, in front of him, was one of the most freeing things Cassie had ever done in her marriage. She was giving her husband the gift of self: I’m yours, I’m not hiding. Here I am, as I really am.
Everything on display
One of the “gifts of self” I give my wife is a weekly Covenant Eyes, a report that is sent directly to her. It details any “objectionable” content I might have accessed online. I’ve read horror stories about what many people are getting involved in on the internet. Imagine the Christmas gift it would be to tell your spouse, “I want you to know I have eyes only for you. Everything I see on my phone, tablet or laptop, you’re going to know about.” Most spouses would welcome such a gift. Sharing all your passwords is like sharing yourself.
There comes a point when we are tempted to resent the accountability of marriage, where everything is on display—what we’re eating, watching or doing to relax. We can either allow that accountability to help us make wise choices, or if we resist, we might start hiding or misleading our spouse. That’s when we stop giving ourselves to each other. We essentially say, “I’m not going to let you see who I really am.”
That isn’t just destructive to your marriage, it’s destructive to yourself. Hiding yourself destroys your peace, your joy and inevitably, your security. Eventually, not pursuing honesty with your spouse will make you resent your spouse’s presence instead of cherishing it. When you give the gift of yourself by ruthlessly pursuing honesty, you grow closer to each other.
On year 22 of his marriage, Kevin attended a men’s conference that urged husbands to go home and do something for their wives. Kevin prayerfully considered what to do until he sensed the Lord asking him a question: What does Sherry hate doing more than anything else?
That’s easy, Kevin thought. Making the bed. Kevin has now made their bed more than 4,000 mornings in a row, praying for his wife as he does so.
Blessing our spouses is a great opportunity to double down on giving ourselves by doing things for them that only we can do. My wife is fond of talking about her “magic gas tank.” With a little forethought, I make sure her car’s tank never gets empty. It’s a relatively small thing I do once a week, and it makes my wife feel cherished.
A counselor friend once told me, “If married people would wake up each day and ask what one thing they could do that day to bless their spouse, the divorce rate would plummet.”
Make their dreams come true
Alicia’s husband, Barron, was a rabid soccer fan. Five years before they became empty-nesters, Alicia started a surprise fund. She scrimped and saved, and even took “donations” from friends who heard what she was doing.
For their 32nd anniversary, Alicia told her husband, who had never been out of the country, that they were going to England to watch Barron’s favorite team, Manchester United, play at Old Trafford. They got to tour this stadium that Barron had seen many times on television, and he got to walk the grounds and watch a game, wearing his red jersey, along with the tens of thousands of other fans who packed Old Trafford for a home match.
Whether it’s at the beginning, middle or empty-nest season of marriage, start thinking about how you can make one of your spouse’s “bucket list” items come true. For Donnie, it was to buy his wife, Jaclyn, a professional camera. He encouraged her to quit her job so she could pursue her dream of becoming a photographer. That meant Donnie had to take a second job to replace the income lost from Jaclyn’s prior employment. But Donnie told her, “I didn’t marry you to take away your dreams. I married you to make your dreams come true.”
That was 15 years ago. Now every time Jaclyn sees one of her photos on a billboard, she’s reminded of how Donnie gave himself to help her achieve her vocational goals.
Reach for the goal
Christmas doesn’t have to be the only time you give to your spouse. You can have this goal in every season of marriage: I am yours. Giving yourself to your spouse means that — more than you belong to your job, your hobby, your family of origin or even your children — you belong to your spouse. And you are going to find new ways in every season of life to keep giving yourself.
My wealthy friend, whom I mentioned at the beginning of this article, had a business setback during the economic collapse in 2008, from which his business continued to struggle. He thought he might finally be on his way back when COVID-19 shut down the economy and crushed his resurrected business plans. He’s humbled that in his 50s, he can’t afford the kinds of Christmas gifts he gave to his wife in his 30s. But because many years ago he wisely chose to give his wife the gift of self, she’s content and joyful as she faces the future with him. They have a marriage most only dream of.
The gift of self is the heart of marriage that goes back to your wedding vows: “For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health,” I give you my self. There’s no more meaningful present you can give to your spouse this Christmas than that.