How To Never Fail At Gift Giving Again

5 years ago

It takes far more than ten fingers to count the number of gifts my husband has given me that I have returned. Here are just a few:

  • designer purse

  • gold cuff bracelet

  • leather jacket

  • diamond anniversary ring

Yep, you read that right, I even returned an anniversary ring my husband had selected for me. For years, when he would give me a present, I always loved the surprise and the thoughtfulness but rarely the actual gift. There were reasons: doesn’t fit, too expensive, have one like it already. When I list them out like this (both the gifts and the excuses for returning them), it makes me sound ungrateful, selfish, spoiled even. But that isn’t the case (at least I hope not).

Credit Image: Jonas N on Flickr

The truth is, I don’t care about gifts, at least not the kind you buy. This makes me a bit of a Scrooge around the holidays, but I know I am not alone. Here are some of the reasons people hate giving (and getting gifts): 

  • They are a waste of money.

  • They are filled with expectations and the potential for disappointment.

  • They reflect a materialistic society.

  • They are not good for the environment.

  • They don’t tell me you love me.

Let me repeat that ... they don’t tell me you love me.

In short, gifts can be a poor substitute for the depth of our feelings, and that is the real reason so many hate to give and to get gifts. At least that’s true for some of us.

My mother? She loves gifts, and it’s a good thing my father loves to give them. When I was growing up, my father was rarely around. He traveled extensively for business. And when he wasn’t traveling, he worked long hours. He loved his job, and I know was conflicted about the time he spent away from us. I know this because he always came back with gifts. My father understood what made her happy (diamonds, pearls, designer clothes) and delivered. She rarely complained about his traveling. In fact, she said she preferred her time alone. And when he came home? It was like Christmas at our house.

But to me, the dynamic that worked for their marriage could never work in mine. Back when we were first married and my husband lovingly gave me gifts, it left a small hole in my heart and often tears in my eyes. Rationally, I knew he spent his money and time to find something he thought I might like. But in truth, I would rather have spent that money in other ways. And that lost time? I would much rather have been with him.

Showing one’s love is darn hard. Often, like my husband, we struggle to find just the right gift only to discover it is way off the mark. The problem is not the good intention, the problem is in not understanding what makes our beloved feel most loved.

I didn’t really understand this until a friend passed on a book called The Five Love Languages. You've probably heard about it. It's written by an evangelical Christian pastor and marriage counselor, Dr. Gary Chapman. Since I am not evangelical or even Christian, I didn’t rush to read it. She explained his religious theology was not the point, his ideas about love were. So when I finally did take the time to read his words, it was like that old commercial where the woman hits her head and says, “Wow, I could have had a V8!” The answer was so obvious.

In short, the author argues we each experience love in our own unique way, but those ways can be distilled into five expressions or “languages”:

Physical touch, words of affirmation, quality time, acts of service, and gifts.

No one is exclusively one language; we are all a miniature United Nations. However, one or two dominant languages surface to enable us to experience love. These are also the ways we tend to show our love.

Me? I feel loved when my husband and I spend time together. I’m also deeply affectionate and enjoy being held. I’m a quality time/physical touch gal. My husband? He is all about acts of service. If I pick up his dry cleaning, get the windows washed, and take his car to the repair shop, he swoons.

My girlfriends think he is a dream husband. On the weekends, he does the laundry, makes the beds, goes grocery shopping, cooks dinner, and then cleans the dishes afterwards. As much as I am grateful for his hard work, sometimes this whirling dervish of a househusband is so busy we don’t get any time together, and I end up feeling unloved. Meanwhile, he thinks his acts of service are screaming, “I love you” with every folded sock.

Once we understood how the other experienced and showed love, things got a lot easier for us. Now when my husband insists on spending the weekend cleaning out the garage, I know he is, in his own way, loving me. Instead of complaining, I join him. Or, I don’t and I realize he is loving me in his own special way.

My husband is finally fluent in my love language, as well. For our recent anniversary, he didn’t give me an expensive piece of jewelry. Instead, he gave me the perfect gift: a trip to Italy, together.

As we head into the holidays, think carefully about your beloved’s love language. It can save you time and money. But most importantly, it can save you from that feeling of disappointment, sadness and even anger when the gift you give is not received in the way you intended. As the poet Antonio Porchia wrote, 

“I know what I have given you. I do not know what you have received.”

Check out BlogHer Turtle and Leaf’s great write up on the Five Love Languages 

BlogHer Jennie writes about her husband’s loving misstep on her blog, A Lady in France. 

Sometimes the best gifts are the ones you give yourself. Last year, BlogHer Blogs & Social Media Section Editor Melissa Ford suggested you give yourself the gift of a self-hosted blog. I think the advice is evergreen.

Happy holidays to you and yours.

Gloria Steinem once said, "The first problem for all of us, women and men, is not to learn but to unlearn." I am working on unlearning each and every day. How about you? Lisen