Should you speak up? Pretend you like it? Here's the best way to approach gift-giving in marriage.
The days of December are often filled with anxious thoughts about what to give someone: what they will like, what can fill them with happiness, what will make their dreams come true. We want to express a great deal with our gifts, especially to our spouse.
Very often, we also expect to receive a lot from our spouse. In my work with couples, I’ve found that giving and receiving usually requires a fair amount of work, and it is an art that must be learned.
“So, does this mean that when I don’t like the gift, I have to pretend to like it?” one wife asked me during a counseling session, “If not, next time he’ll give me the same thing again!”
In response to this complaint, I encouraged her to seek an answer to another, more profound question: “What meaning do you give to the mutual giving of gifts? What are you trying to express with them?”
Empathy when accepting gifts
A gift is only the end result of a person’s intention. He intended to make her happy and tried to make it happen.
He wasn’t sure he’d get it right—or maybe, on the contrary, he was impressed by his own ingenuity: “I’ll get her a warm sweater because she’s always cold.” It doesn’t matter that it’s very wide and khaki green, a color she doesn’t usually like … Maybe he was buying for her what would fulfill one of his own dreams.
The art of receiving gifts is to appreciate with empathy everything people do for you and their good intentions towards you.
Even if the gift is poorly chosen, it can be accepted with gratitude as a message of love.
If the gift isn’t what we wanted, maybe we haven’t talked enough about our needs and dreams. It is helpful to make up for this lack of communication with a conversation—one that’s not a list of complaints, but a conversation with each other about what each one needs.
You’ll already be giving your spouse a nice gift if you simply ask: “What do you need most right now?”
If you have the daily certainty of loving and being loved, then it’s not a matter of thinking about how to choose the gift properly, or how to acquire the gift you’ve chosen, but of asking yourself what love you’re expressing or receiving through the gift.
When we have this certainty, we don’t need any great proof of love in the form of a package under the Christmas tree. The holiday is a time to give thanks for being loved instead of thinking about whether other people will figure out what you want or whether your friend will receive a better gift than you.
Focusing on others
Every day we miss opportunities to focus our full attention on someone else. Everyday tasks take over our lives. Therefore, when we think about and look for a gift, we should take advantage of the occasion to develop a sensitivity that allows us to refresh our love for our husband or wife.
We don’t usually stop on a daily basis to think about how our spouse is experiencing that moment in their life and how they feel, both physically and mentally. Rather, in our daily life we may think of our spouse as a robot, always ready to take on tasks or actions for the benefit of the family.
It’s good for us to work each day to develop a sensitivity that allows us to appreciate gifts our spouse gives us—the ordinary, daily ones, such as getting up in the morning to go to work, getting up in the middle of the night to comfort a child, going shopping for household needs, or remembering to pay the bills.
This same attitude of attention towards others will lead us to ask them, “What do you need today?”
Their response we will reveal to us their needs In this way, we’ll be able to give them the right gifts, and we can help them know what to give us, respecting each other’s possibilities and remembering we’re always ready to help each other.
What can I do for you today?
Sometimes a wonderful gift can consist of assuming some responsibility that the other person normally takes care of, even if he or she doesn’t notice or comment on it (he or she may not have the strength to do so).
Another good gift can be the compassionate acceptance of something imperfect, such as a half-done household task, because the other person started it but was interrupted because he or she was attending to a crying child.
When people in a relationship live with gratitude and give themselves to each other every day, Christmas will not become an examination of how much someone loves us based on the gift they give us. If we wake up asking each other the question, “What can I do for you today?” instead of, “What haven’t I received?” the traditional gift under the Christmas tree will be just one of many different kinds of gifts, and not considered the most important expression of the way we love or think of each other.
The gratitude tree: A way to help your family learn to say thank you
What to do when you and your spouse have different parenting styles