Gift-giving is a big deal in our culture. Throughout the year we are expected to have the perfect present for birthdays, anniversaries, Mother’s and Father’s Day and yes, Valentine’s Day. In fact, it seems that planning, buying and sharing gifts has become a focus of modern life – especially within a marriage.
But is a cashmere sweater, a diamond or other luxury gift the only way to express our love? Is sexy lingerie a present the recipient really wants, or is it mostly about the giver?
With all the noise out there, maybe we’ve lost track of what gifts really represent in our relationships. So let’s take them back. We can ignore Hallmark and all the other brands and restore gift-giving to a more meaningful place.
LET’S GET RID OF OBLIGATIONS
When you give a present, do you expect something in return? Do those lovely flowers come with hope that your spouse will forgive you for something? Are chocolates a bid for sex? Are you giving that Apple Watch because you want a gift of equal value in return?
Maybe you’re not giving gifts so much as making an economic exchange.
Mutually beneficial exchanges are important in every marriage, but they aren’t quite the same as gift giving. A true present doesn’t carry obligations. It doesn’t put the receiver in debt to you. Gifts given freely and chosen with love express a very different message.
CHOOSING SOMETHING YOUR PARTNER REALLY, REALLY WANTS
A gift, by definition, has to be something your loved one will be thrilled to get. Something s/he might choose independently of you.
Pasting your own preferences and goals over those of your loved one creates a scenario for resentment. Consider these two examples.
A wife buys her husband a particular piece of clothing in a color he never wears. He has no idea how to tell her he hates it. He wears it just once and never touches it again. Whenever she sees it in the closet, she feels resentment.
A man buys his partner an expensive spin bike, thinking she will benefit from being more active. She is annoyed. Is he implying that she needs to be in better shape? She feels hurt; he gets defensive. The bike, meanwhile, collects dust.
Clearly, it’s a mistake to impose what we want on the people we love so much. And it’s so easy to avoid. All we have to do is listen.
Pay attention to what your partner says, especially when s/he is describing a problem or talking about something s/he would love to do someday. Tune in when s/he admires new styles – or tools and books that support a favorite activity. If you listen to your partner, you will hear dozens of gift ideas every month, more than enough to make birthdays and holidays easy.
TAPPING INTO SHARED MEANING
The best presents have deep meaning that comes from within your relationship. They’re significant because they are part of your shared story.
Let’s say that you traveled to Argentina one year, and both of you have incredibly good memories of that time. Wouldn’t a bottle of Argentinian wine be a simple and lovely gift? Or dinner in a restaurant that reminds you of the candlelight meals shared on your trip?
Sometimes, it’s the message you add to the gift that matters. A new coat he’s had his eye on can come with a note inside: “So you’ll always be warm. I love you.”
Clearly, it’s not the amount of money you spend. It’s the thought that you put into giving that makes each gift a unique expression of your feelings and your commitment to your partner.
THE GIFT OF A GREAT RELATIONSHIP
Gift giving can reflect what’s working – or not working – within a marriage. If you are experiencing struggles right now, Janae Munday, LCSW, is ready to help. As a marriage counselor in the Phoenix, Arizona area, she has years of experience in helping married and committed couples communicate effectively and express their true needs. Call Janae today for a convenient appointment to meet.