The last six weeks of every year – the holiday marathon – are about many pieces of life, and always about relationships. Despite the stresses these days inflict upon all of us (money, travel, personal and familial histories), they are the richest time of the year. Faith, hope and charity are in abundance, but love and caring – relationships – dominate.

Gift and card lists are mini-histories of their makers’ lives, a unique DNA of the construct of one’s world. From parents to postman, the newest grandchild to the eldest of relatives, long-ago friends and brand new ones, relationships fill a life with treasure, tragedy and everything in between. What would a life be without others?

Like every self, every relationship is unique. Whether intensely intimate or just-in-passing, a relationship is always what both make of it. In healthy, viable relationships, mutuality and reciprocity are essential. Mutuality means that the relationship is chosen by both, not forced or imposed by one upon an other; reciprocity, that there is an honest give-and-take, a natural interaction that attests to the investment in making maintaining and nurturing the relationship. More needs to be said about each essential.

Dependency works directly against mutuality. It is usually based upon need in one and “feeling sorry for” in the other. It leads to fear of abandonment and feelings of being used. Co-dependency intensifies such feelings, creating a sick mutuality that that can never give each other what they really and what the best relationships are always about – a healthy sense of self and other. Mutuality requires honesty, presence and accountability, all of which feel risky at best in unhealthy relationships.

Reciprocity is equally important. There are no numbers involved in good relationships. No need for 50-50 involvement, or balancing the books about who gives and who gets. Reciprocity is a feeling that says, “We’re okay. In fact, we’re doing great!” That feeling comes from sensing, without ever naming, what each other has to offer and what each needs. When a relationship moves into needless measuring, trouble looms. It means one or the other is coming up short. Feelings of not “being there” or being used can become terminal when not addressed. Phone calls always one-way, consistent misconnectings or lame excuses for not getting together are red flags for something being “off” or not working. When this happens, one or the other needs to say, “Can we talk?”

The holidays offer a yearly opportunity to take inventory of one’s relationships. When writing a card, buying a gift or thinking to call, asking one’s self how things are going with this or that relative or friend can help to do the maintenance necessary to keep connections healthy and growing. There will be sad gaps to deal with, of course. But no one counting the riches of friendship during the holidays will ever be left feeling lonely. They may even discover that they have all the pre

sents they have ever wanted.