12/03/2014 12:12 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2015

Give Your Spouse the Gift That Can't Go Wrong

George Marks via Getty Images

Whether you're a big holiday shopper or a minimalist, here's one gift your spouse is guaranteed to enjoy.

There's no need to wrap it and plenty of opportunity to use it.

This year, give your partner a break.

Fifteen minutes late? Think: Oh, she had a hard time getting out of the office.
Snappish tone? Think: he must need a hug and some TLC.

Too often, we look at our spouse through the worst possible lens: She's so inconsiderate. He's such a stickler for detail. We go to always and never, turning isolated instances into sweeping generalizations, seeing everyday annoyances as evidence of character flaw.

Some of the most unhappy couples I know keep close tabs on their partner's transgressions, stockpiling their missteps to be used as ammunition. They're all over each other's shortcomings and regularly air their displeasures -- giving each other the clear message that they're being heavily scrutinized and they're coming up short.

The end result is a climate of mistrust and defensiveness, a relationship that feels more like a war zone than a loving alliance.

Every spouse comes complete with his or her annoying behaviors that, like it or not, are unlikely to change. What's the value, then, of pointing them out?

The alternative: keep track of your partner's good deeds. Recognize her well-intentioned efforts, her strong work ethic, her kindness. Take note of his patience, his generosity, his willingness to grow.

If this year's gift list includes giving your partner a break, here are some options that are sure to please:

Express appreciation early and often. I've never once heard someone complain that their spouse is too grateful.

Choose your battles (and choose as few of them as possible). How many things are really worth getting yourself all in a twist?

Accept imperfection in yourself and your partner. Remember, we're all part beauty and part flaw.

Allow minor disappointments to pass without comment. Don't underestimate how hard this might be!

Rather than gnashing your teeth, try joking about the inevitable ways you drive each other nuts. Yes, it's possible to laugh when your spouse takes just this side of eternity to get out the door.

Consider your partner's needs and well-being to be as important as yours. After all, when one of you wins and the other loses, you both lose in the end.

Pay attention to your tone of irritation, condescension, dismissiveness. Don't forget: you're a spouse, not a judge or a drill sergeant.

Talk to your partner the way you talk to your dog, your cat, your best friend.

Tackle important issues gently and respectfully. (Not right before bed when your partner is prone to insomnia; not at 7:45 a.m. on the way out the door...)

Recognize and accept that you are two separate people. As such you will think differently, see things differently and, consequently, respond differently to almost everything. Though we all have our preferences, there's no right way to be.

Don't get hung up on fairness. Set a standard for your own behavior and then live up to it, even if you sometimes end up doing more than your share.

Let go.


Who needs another necktie, soap dish, or useless gadget from the kitchen store?

Never mind the wool cap, the cookbook, the solar-heated travel mug.

This year, give your spouse the gift of love and acceptance, a gift that will quite likely be re-gifted to you.

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