Why Love is a Verb, Not Just a Feeling: Lessons from the "Gift of the Magi".

“The greatest gift that’s ever earned is to love and be loved in return” - Nat King Cole

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O. Henry’s short story, The Gift of the Magi and its many adaptations are generally told during the holiday season.  Though it’s a story about gift giving, I think it’s really a story about love, which can be told year round.  My favorite version has a folksy feel and goes a little something like this.

 

 A farmer and his wife would like to give each other a gift.  He knows that she would love a pair of golden combs to pin back her beautiful long thick hair.  She knows he would like an extra cow so he can produce more milk to sell.  Neither can afford to buy each other their ideal gift, but unbeknownst to each other, they both came up with the same idea. They devised a secret barter plan, to get each other the gift the other truly wants.  She cuts and sells her long thick hair to buy him a cow and he sells one of his cows to buy her the combs for her long thick hair. 

 

 Now, if that is not love, then I don’t know what is. 

 

As a therapist, many of my clients, both individuals and couples, come to see me about their struggles with love.  “Why didn’t he do that? Or why did she do this?” they complain when their wants, needs and expectations aren’t met. While there are times when “the complaint” is genuinely born out of one or both parties consistently not following through on what they contracted to do, more often then not it’s a different story.   When I politely ask the question “why do you place the burden of responsibility for the other to take care of this for you?”, they pause and stare at me with both curiosity and confusion.  At this point, the therapy either begins or it ends.

 

When it begins, people start to learn that their angst is their own and not to be managed by the other. They start to look inside themselves and see what’s really going on. And what that is, more often then not, is this: a reenactment of their unfinished childhood business craftily uploaded onto the other, as the unhealed wounds they carry from their unmet wants and needs incurred during childhood still bleed into adulthood, midlife and beyond.   The key here is, only they, themselves can heal that, not the other.  And if they can heal that, then they can learn how to become relational. 

 

That is when people can ask for what they want, what the other wants and express their disappointments without finger pointing and blame.     That is when they can successfully negotiate their relationships and co-navigate their journey together.

 

That is when they can love and be loved -which in my view, truly is the greatest gift that’s ever earned.. Henry’s short story, The Gift of the Magi and its many adaptations are generally told during the holiday season.  Though it’s a story about gift giving, I think it’s really a story about love, which can be told year round.  My favorite version has a folksy feel and goes a little something like this.

 

 A farmer and his wife would like to give each other a gift.  He knows that she would love a pair of golden combs to pin back her beautiful long thick hair.  She knows he would like an extra cow so he can produce more milk to sell.  Neither can afford to buy each other their ideal gift, but unbeknownst to each other, they both came up with the same idea. They devised a secret barter plan, to get each other the gift the other truly wants.  She cuts and sells her long thick hair to buy him a cow and he sells one of his cows to buy her the combs for her long thick hair. 

 

 Now, if that is not love, then I don’t know what is. 

 

As a therapist, many of my clients, both individuals and couples, come to see me about their struggles with love.  “Why didn’t he do that? Or why did she do this?” they complain when their wants, needs and expectations aren’t met. While there are times when “the complaint” is genuinely born out of one or both parties consistently not following through on what they contracted to do, more often then not it’s a different story.   When I politely ask the question “why do you place the burden of responsibility for the other to take care of this for you?”, they pause and stare at me with both curiosity and confusion.  At this point, the therapy either begins or it ends.

 

When it begins, people start to learn that their angst is their own and not to be managed by the other. They start to look inside themselves and see what’s really going on. And what that is, more often then not, is this: a reenactment of their unfinished childhood business craftily uploaded onto the other, as the unhealed wounds they carry from their unmet wants and needs incurred during childhood still bleed into adulthood, midlife and beyond.   The key here is, only they, themselves can heal that, not the other.  And if they can heal that, then they can learn how to become relational. 

 

That is when people can ask for what they want, what the other wants and express their disappointments without finger pointing and blame.     That is when they can successfully negotiate their relationships and co-navigate their journey together.

 

That is when they can love and be loved -which in my view, truly is the greatest gift that’s ever earned.

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