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Avery Post

Gift Giving in Relationships

We have all faced that age-old dilemma: what can I get my partner as a gift that a) I haven’t done before, b) that will strengthen our relationship to each other, and c) with which they won’t be disappointed.

In this time of gift-giving considering your partner’s love language is important. In Gary Chapman’s book, the Five Love Languages his stories are very similar to the ones of my clients. We each have unique ways we prefer to show our love and receive love.

The 5 ways we express heartfelt commitment to our partner are: Words of Affirmation; Quality Time; Receiving Gifts; Acts of Service and Physical Touch. For some people, they know immediately what they offer and what they like to receive. You can ask yourself and your partner – which do I/you yearn for from you/me? What have I/you been doing when we feel most loved? Tuning into these can enrich your relationship.

Not surprisingly, sometimes there is a mismatch between partners and this can lead to unintended disappointment. One of the times when I saw this in a session was with a man who had worked hard all his life to give his wife gifts – a home, car, and expensive fur coat. Sadly, what she most wanted was words of affirmation and he was completely unable to do this. You can imagine his devastation when she gave the coat away and her desperation to try to reach him. I encourage couples to explore these aspects together to make sure the gift they offer fits each other’s hearts.

Another dilemma in gift-receiving, are gifts with a hidden cost. It is rare that a gift does not have expectations and strings attached. At the very least, reciprocity: the gift I give you has to have equal monetary value or I will feel guilty or embarrassed. To the extreme, since I got you this (whether you wanted it or not) you owe me. Sadly, gifts with strings attached are not really gifts at all but social attempts to obtain something for oneself – whether boasting rights or obligation.

Are there any gifts without this weight? A true gift comes from the heart with no expectation of return. Random acts of kindness and pay it forward are much easier than the angst-fraught search for just the right gift. Is that because it is usually spontaneous and with strangers? Maybe we should do these with loved ones too.

I don’t know where I learned it but believe that it is true: “unasked for advice is not a gift”. We can have good intentions to want to help someone but the how what and when makes a difference. A greater gift is to listen, encourage, and support our loved ones without laying our choices onto them.

The hardest part – what do you do if the gift is really not right for you? I’m afraid I don’t have the answer to this one. I have friends who would never tell the truth about their reaction to the gift so I can never know if they really liked it or not. I have seen the disappointment in my partner’s eyes when I returned something to get something more appropriate. I have lied and said I like it then got the same thing again (the white elephant syndrome). I have told the truth and with my partner worked it out. This one is totally up to you, the situation, and the likely consequences. Besides, our disappointment in a gift says much more about oneself than the giver.

In the end, to get it right, all we can do is give with love and receive with joy.


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