Stress, Gifts & Christmas : Relationship Tips to Survive and Thrive through the Season

At this time of year, we generally spend more time with our partner, family, friends, in-laws (and out-laws!) and yes, even some of those “awkward” family members too!  For some it can be a wonderful time of creating special memories.  For others, the extra time together can be somewhat stressful, to say the least!

Understanding what makes people different and adjusting your communication style to one that connects more strongly with them can make a world of difference.   This is as true for your extended family and children as it is for your partner.

So, how can we get more understanding?Quite often, people seem “awkward” simply because they are misunderstood.  The more you understand about differences and communication, the more pleasure you will have from all your conversations, especially the ones with your partner.

As much as we may have in common with our partner, typically we differ in so many ways – that’s what makes life interesting.  And that’s why understanding differences is crucial for great communication.

Take the whole experience of gift giving for example.  That in itself can bring its own stresses – trying to get the right gift at the right price that delivers the “I love you” message and evokes the right level of excitement can be a tough mission to accomplish.

But did you know that gift-giving is only one of five key ways that we feel loved?  

This Christmas, you can genuinely give the gift of love to your partner and your nearest and dearest by paying close attention to what makes them feel loved the most – alongside the exchange of gifts.  That way the experience around gift-giving is a lasting, positive, memorable one.

You see (as Dr. Gary Chapman points out in his book “The 5 Love Languages”), everyone feels most loved in one of five key ways and for some, gifts might not be top of their list.  Not that they don’t like receiving gifts!  But other things speak love more loudly to them.

That will explain why sometimes you can give a gift that you thought was fantastic and get a lukewarm response.  And then you do something you think is insignificant, and get gushing gratitude!  Life can feel a bit confusing…

Welcome to the world of love languages!  This is literally a short cut to showing love in meaningful ways and getting maximum positive impact for your efforts.  More than that – it’s a guaranteed way of “oiling the wheels” in any difficult relationship and reducing friction (stress?!) over the holidays.

The five “Love Languages” are :

  • Receiving Gifts
  • Enjoying Gentle Touch
  • Spending Quality Time together
  • Hearing Loving Words
  • Receiving Acts of Service

Each of us feel most loved in one, maybe two of the five ways, and usually there is a whole mix of different ones in couples and families… we have ALL FIVE covered in our immediate family!  You probably do too – if not in your immediate family, then definitely amongst your extended family and friends.  Learning about Love Languages will be the difference that makes the difference for your Christmas experience this year.  

Generally what happens is…

we try to show love in the way that means the most to us… which typically is not the way our nearest and dearest feel loved so it ends up falling flat, or causing frustrations.

See if you can identify your top two and your partner’s through stories of some of the things we have experienced at home.

Gifts

We all enjoy receiving gifts and get delighted by treats every now and again. But for some people, receiving a gift is love’s loudest voice.  Not that they are materialistic and it is not so much about the cost.  For them, it genuinely is the thought that counts.  A tangible gift speaks love in volumes to “Gifts” people because it says “you thought of me enough to go out of your way and get something to show that I was on your mind”.  Christmas can be a time of heaven on earth for Gifts people, especially if you take the time to get them something that they would really value and enjoy.  Talk about pouring bucket loads of love into their love tank!

Our older son is very much a “Gifts” person.  Not only does he delight in receiving gifts, but he also enjoys buying gifts and watching the delight on other people’s faces as a result.  From his early teens, whenever he went on school trips he would use his pocket money and buy a little something for all of us, as his way of saying “I love you and thought of you while I was away”.  He is also famous for drawing something or making something from paper and cardboard and presenting it to you just before you leave, as a little keepsake to remember him by while you are away.  Of course, he knows I would never forget my son!  But this is his way of making that love and connection feel tangible while we are apart.

It’s really not about the money, its about a physical, visible representation of the message of love.

So, if your partner feels most loved through tangible gifts, it is crucial to remember all the big events like birthdays, anniversaries and of course Christmas.  Forgetting big events might be okay for some, but for “Gifts” people it delivers a damaging message of being unloved and uncared for. Not the message you want to give to the person you love.  Also, surprise gifts along the way “just because” or a gift to mark a meaningful event will pay huge dividends in the warmth and emotional connection encouraged through speaking the language of love most important to them. 

With this new understanding, you can make the “gifts” people in your life feel particularly loved this Christmas, by giving a little more thought to their presents.

Gentle Touch

Our younger son is very much a “Gentle Touch” person.  He always greets you in the morning with a warm hug and gives bear hugs whenever we have been apart for a while.  The real tell-tale sign of what pours love into his heart is when he is upset.  Getting soft and gentle and giving him a hug always helps to calm him down. 

The classic example was the experience I had when he just started school. By Fridays he would get so exhausted that often he would have a melt down over the simplest thing or nothing at all.  Just too tired and overwhelmed.  Once, we were on the motorway driving home when he started sobbing his little heart out and there was nothing I could do or say to calm him down, while stuck in motorway traffic.  In a moment of inspiration, I offered my hand for him to hold.  You could see him struggle between the emotions of wanting to stay angry and the yearning to hold my hand.  As he allowed himself to reach for it and we held hands, without a word, he calmed right down and nodded off to sleep. 

The funny thing is, it’s the same for adults too!  I’m a “Gentle Touch” person and it still works a treat for me.  When I get upset, Jon knows that all he has to do is to be soft and gentle and put his arms around me, and that helps to drain frustration and anger away til I’m calm enough to discuss it sensibly – even if I’m angry with him!

If you are not a “Gentle Touch” person, you might not have appreciated the bear hugs given by some relatives or the people who feel the need to touch you or make some sort of physical contact when you speak together.

But now you know it’s just their way of saying I love you, because we all tend to show love in the way we perceive it most.  Just understanding that should help you give a bit more grace and show a bit more love to them this Christmas.

Quality Time

My husband Jon is very much a “Quality Time” person, and finally the penny dropped for me to understand why he would get so upset about me and mobile phones. Ashamedly, quite often when we were on a long drive I would arrange to catch up on calls or emails.  Inevitably he would be driving in silence while I nattered away with others – until I realised just how frustrating that was to someone whose Love Language is Quality Time!  “Quality Time” people look forward to long drives and any opportunity that gives the chance to spend uninterrupted, one-on-one time together.  Nothing is more frustrating for them than being physically present but absent in ever other way.  Turning the phone off and sharing the gift of your undivided attention speaks truckloads of love to them.

“Quality Time” people really understand that time is the one resource that never gets replenished, so giving your time and attention is a real act of love for them.

If you are ever unsure what to get for an elderly relative, organise to spend time with them and watch their face light up.  Whatever their love language may have been before, quality time increases in importance as they get closer to the finish line.

Just knowing the Love Language your partner or children and other loved ones speak can help you be more on purpose about showing love.  Equally, it can rescue you from causing unintended frustration and upset.  It’s not about the phone, it’s about the disrespect they feel having you give what they crave the most to everything and everyone else except them!  That may help explain a few arguments in hindsight …!  At Christmas, while “Quality Time” people will appreciate your presents, what they crave and value the most is your presence. To make the experience truly magical, give the “gift of time” along with the gifts.  That speaks love in volumes to “Quality Time” people.

Loving Words

People who feel most loved through words actually read the words in the card attached to the presents!  “Words” people are very alert to the use of words to convey love.  They are the ones who will buy you the long Hallmark-type cards with beautiful sentiments, or will write long messages in the blank ones.  That’s because they are speaking their own Love Language loudly.  That’s what they would like to receive as well.

People who feel most loved through words thrive on compliments and verbal appreciation – literally the wind beneath their wings.

Christmas provides a real opportunity to be thoughtful and sentimental with cards and words, which will pour bucketloads of love into their love tank.

Sometimes as partners, if words are not important to us we might think nice things about our partners but never say it out loud.  That is literally starving them of love’s loudest language and leaving them vulnerable to others who verbalise appreciation.

This reminds me of the story of the man whose wife complained that he never said “I love you”.  His response was “darling, when we got married 25 years ago I told you I loved you then.  I’ll let you know if anything changes”.  That’s like death by silence to a “Words” person.  Silence leaves the emotional reserve of warmth and goodwill drained and unreplenished.  That’s why often relationships can feel like they are one sentence away from an argument all the time, because the “love tank” is running on empty.

Whether your partner is a “Words” person or not, please don’t be that man!  Make a habit of saying the things you appreciate and value in your partner.  Even if you fall into the “stiff upper lip” category and find it difficult to verbalise your appreciation, make an extra effort this Christmas to write what you really think in a card.  My bet is that of all the gifts they receive, that will be the one thing they truly treasure and make a keepsake for life.  The door is wide open for you to make a huge, positive impact on the warmth and connection in your relationship.

Acts of Service

People who feel most loved through “acts of service” are very practical and pragmatic, alert to the consideration people give them through doing things for them.  Not that they are looking for a slave.  Quite often they are more than capable of doing things for themselves and are renowned for “getting on with the job” and doing things for others.  They are super alert to things being done for them because they see it as a gift of time and effort when someone does something for them that they would otherwise have had to do themselves.  It gives the message that “you thought of me, rolled your sleeves up and went to work on my behalf”.  It could be as simple as bringing a cup of tea while they are still in bed or making breakfast, doing the laundry, garden, wash the car – any task that they would have on their “to do” list.

You know you have a partner who is very much an “Acts of Service” person when any simple request for help is done with bells and whistles on it!

Jon is also an “Acts of Service” person.  Last year I casually mentioned to him that I would really like to sort out a Bluetooth headset for my car so I can speak totally handsfree, not just because of the laws but for safety sake.  The car is really on its last legs and the sound and navigation system didn’t work, so I was just thinking of a simple “over the ear” headset.  I completely forgot that I had mentioned it because it was on one of those rolling to do lists in my head.  Then for some strange reason Jon said the car needed to be in the garage to be checked over, and a couple of days later he called me to have a look at something that needed attention in my car.  As I sat in the driver’s seat, there was a red ribbon and a handwritten card alongside a newly installed audio system with Bluetooth connection to the phone, music, new speakers everything!  And I knew instantly that he was saying “I love you” in the language he knows best. So we both enjoyed the magic of the moment .

Had I not known about Love Languages, I could have easily done him a huge disservice and criticised him for spending more money than the car was worth.  That would have killed the moment for sure and frustrated him in many ways.  So easily done in the absence of understanding how different we are and the different ways in which we each communicate love and other things.

So, in the hustle and bustle of all things to be done for Christmas, think about the “Acts of Service” people in your life, and discover ways you can pause on your “to do” list and help them with something on theirs.  Magic happens when you do that!

The key to the best Christmas ever

Understanding and applying Love Languages can save a lot of stress and aggravation in relationships, as well as feed the emotional warmth and connection. Speaking the right Love Language to your partner fills their “love tank”, builds an emotional cushion in the relationship so life doesn’t get fraught so easily, and secures the relationship because no one is left emotionally unfulfilled and vulnerable.

So, our Christmas gift to you is a FREE course on Improving Communication to help you GET more understanding about your loved ones so you can BE more on-target with the physical gift(s) you choose to give them this Christmas, but also in how you communicate the message of love.  Through a series of short (3-5 min) videos online, you will learn how to reduce stress in your relationship and instantly increase your communication skills to help make this Christmas your most magical ever.  You will have more enjoyable interactions with more people and be able to show love to your partner in specific, meaningful ways. 

After all, if you go right back to the origins, Christmas is about the gift of Love and the relationships we are able to enjoy as a result.  First with God, then with each other.  As we understand our different ways of giving and receiving love we will encourage the best out of everyone so that there is less stress, more laughter, more give and take, more patience with each other and more Christmas magic!  This year, let’s do our part to really experience peace on earth and goodwill to all – at least to all those we choose to spend time with over the season.

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