Like many little kids, I made “love coupons” for my parents as creative gifts on occasion. Lately, I’ve been noticing a shift in my thinking towards “gifting” people I love with certain actions. My brain has been so trained to sort behaviors into “good” and “bad,” that often, necessary change can feel vilifying.
Acknowledging Different Communication Styles Without Judgment
For instance, I’m a talker by nature, some mix of introspection and extroversion, and I came from a family forged by an attorney and a stewardess/nurse. The result is something akin to the classic “big Italian family around the table” cliche, though we shared neither that heritage, nor regular meals, nor large numbers. We interrupt. We ask questions, often before the last one is fully answered. We tell stories we’ve lived, heard and retold a hundred times. We laugh a lot. We’re excited to talk to one another. Our religious background means we’re often seeking meaning, our perfectionist side means we’re often advocating the “right” way to do things, and our debate-nature means we’re always challenging what we know and what we’re told. We often dive into conflict, and resolve it just as easily.
There’s a draw to this style of communication, but it can overwhelm those who may be more pensive and introverted by nature. In particular, my boyfriend often feels this imbalance in our communication, and rightfully so. To be perpetually interrupted can look like disregard, devaluing or disrespect. To be talked at can often feel as though your partner in conversation is more interested in expression than exchange. When he first broached this topic, I felt offended. The choices were clear and black-and-white: either I stopped talking and changed my natural way of expression (labeling it as “bad”), or he had to change his style to match mine (labeling mine as “good”). Coming from a church background where personality tests were popular, and personal traits were analyzed and often looked down upon, this judgment felt natural. However, he tried to explain to me that all he was seeking was more balance; that he loved these traits about me, and acknowledged our differing styles, but simply wanted to strive to meet in the middle a bit more — no judgment necessary.
The Gift of Sharing and Silence
This time, as the subject resurfaced, I tried a different mode of thought. What if there was nothing wrong with the louder, more rapid communication style of mine? What if I simply gave him the gift of communication towards me? What if I gave him the gift of silent moments between us sometimes?
When my dad fell ill, I worried about the strain prolonged crises can cause in a new relationship. I asked an older associate for advice at the outset. She recommended making time, even if only for an evening, to both do fun things and not talk about the crisis at hand. Anyone who has ever caretaken, loved or seen a relative through an illness knows this can be difficult to do, with emergency medical situations, financial repercussions, emotional complications and logistical burdens — which is precisely what made the notion a gift as well, both to my boyfriend and our relationship. I didn’t give it perfectly, or as often as I would have liked, but it was something positive I could do, without needing to judge its presence or absence.
A few days ago, I decided to revive the old “love coupon” idea. I can’t change overnight, but I want my boyfriend to experience more equal-time in our conversations. I began with coupons for 20 minutes of uninterrupted expression, an “interview” where I could ask and just let him answer, and a silent, shared space of time. I found the more I made, the more I wanted to make, and eventually the small packet of slips included backrubs, cooking and the like. It’s a way of being mindful before you’re in a moment, too, presenting a pause and a shift where needed and desired.
Exercise: Making Self-Love Coupons
In keeping with my recent focus on giving to myself, as well, I made a short stack of “love coupons” from me to me. You might want to try this exercise as well, particularly if you don’t tend to give yourself much leeway to relax, pamper yourself or attend to your needs. In a transactional society, sometimes currency of some sort can provide a justification for receiving. If you find yourself needing some self love, try creating these love coupons for yourself.
- Get a single sheet of typing paper and fold it in half twice, lengthwise and width-wise.
- Fold the sheet in both directions to ensure creases, then pull apart to detach into fourths.
- Fold each quarter in half again, crease and detach, to create little coupon slips.
- Draw a symbol of the gift you are giving yourself in the middle of the piece of paper.
- Add “amounts” in the corners, such as 10 minutes or one time.
- Write the gift explicitly in a phrase, such as, “One hot cup of tea while I read the paper.”
- Clip the coupons together with a paperclip.
Here are some ideas for gifts that you can give to yourself in your “self-love coupons”:
- A hot bath, with your phone powered down or out of reach.
- One opportunity to “Just Say No” to a request from someone else.
- 20 minutes of reading for pleasure.
- 10 minutes of stretching or yoga poses.
- 30-minute “Get Out of Jail Free” card to absolve you of judgment on anything.
- 5 minutes of dancing around your house to music.
- An hour of drawing anything with crayons, markers or pencils.
- 30 minutes of watching a TV rerun while doing something positive for your body (a face mask, drinking water, self-massage with lotion).
- An on-demand afternoon nap.
Ask yourself what gifts can you give to yourself. They don’t have to be necessities, earned, prioritized or justified. By nature, they are simply freebies, discounts from the price of a daily grind. They’re also wonderful promotional tools, ways to get your psyche to become increasingly aware of all you have to offer, all you have in store.