Married to an Awful Gift-Giver?


Good gifts make me feel loved. But they don’t have this effect on everyone. Some claim there is no good gift: if they really wanted something, they would have already bought it or made it. Others receive gifts and feel long, uncomfortable strings attached. They feel indebted, and almost no gift is special enough to welcome this feeling.
People who cannot imagine a good gift or receive a gift without feeling bad give awful gifts if they bother to give any at all. To them, every possible gift looks the same, so they buy the first thing they see or they agonize over the choice for days and still end up buying something unappreciated most of the time.
We who give gifts to show our love feel loved when we receive most gifts. Not only can we rate every object we see as a potential gift, we can tell you which of our loved ones would most appreciate it. We can picture the look on the face of each possible recipient, imagine the joy it will bring.
Ask us to teach someone else to do this, and we have no clue how. We cannot imagine not seeing the joy factor in an item. We can help someone who sees it refine their skill or encourage them to consider more possible items. But we cannot list the things we consider in the moment before our flash judgment, so we cannot teach it.
The best we can do is to give an unskilled life partner a list of what would bring us joy. But, of course, much of the joy comes from surprise.
So, what can we do with an awful gift-giver? Give the gift of understanding. Already under pressure to do something they have no clue how to do, adding pressure to do it well to prove their love won’t work. Instead, we can help them make their own love language—read Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages if you are unfamiliar with love languages—feel more like ours.
Invite them to frame or engrave their words of affirmation. Suggest they create coupons for their acts of service or tickets for quality time activities and wrap them. And if they show love through physical touch, suggest they purchase clothing, bed sheets, a comforter, or lotions that will make you even more touchable and make a big deal of letting you open the box or the door to them.
This way, they will actually feel loving when you feel loved. It’s a powerful combination.

About the author

Patty Newbold

I am a widow who got it right the second time. I have been sharing here since February 14, 2006 what I learned from that experience and from positive psychology, marriage research, and my training as a marriage educator.


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  • I just buy my own gifts. Sometimes I wrap them up, but usually I just show her my gift. It beats getting frustrated, it takes the pressure off her, and I get a thoughtful gift. I have learned a few good things in 24 years.

  • Amazing, profound, wise, and oh-so-practical! Took me 2 decades to stop punishing my poor husband for lacking a “gift sense”! Life and love are so much easier Now that I look at him and who he is every day as the best possible gifts. Just celebrated our 24th anniversary on Tuesday without gifts or cards or anything so-called “special”…just each other. Which was more than enough!

  • Cheri, confirmation from happily married folks like you means so much to those struggling to find their way. Thank you for sharing your experience and congratulations on that 24th anniversary!

  • I wish my wife would read this. I agonize over gifts and no matter what, she is always immediately disappointed. Most of the time she comes around, but her first reaction is almost always negative. To the point that she has ruined several birthdays and Christmas days being angry and pouting.
    I took an example from one of your contributors and designed a special 40th birthday gift that involved asking all of her friends and family to buy or make her a book. It took me months to send the request letters to friends and family, remind them of the book, receive the gifts, wrap them, etc. And…..she was not happy with it.
    I have no desire to even try anymore. She has the same reaction to a lot of the things I do. Most if the time she comes around yet I am filled with so much anxiety about making decisions or giving gifts that even though I know she may eventually change her mind, I do not want to even try.

  • Dear Lost, if your wife comes around after a while, it sounds like she loves you, so try this: Assume Love. By this I mean imagine you are certain she loves you dearly, as much as anyone could love you. If you need to, picture her as a wife in a movie where it’s really, really clear how much this character loves her husband. Now explain how it is that she (this character) is unhappy or angry when she opens a gift.
    Pouting or sadness, by the way, is a sign she’s experienced a loss, while anger is a sign that she feels she was treated in a way she did not deserve.
    The most common way this happens is if she thinks you know what she deserves or wants and that you are sending a message that you don’t agree she deserves it or don’t really “get” her — her reaction is not to the gift, but to her misguided knee-jerk reaction that her relationship with you is less solid than she thought (loss) and she may lose it for arbitrary reasons she does not understand (anger).
    If this one seems to fit, you could try, “I love you too much to disappoint you ever again. Please designate one of your friends to pick out my gifts to you. I want you to receive things you love, things that mean a lot to you, because I love you.” Anything that conveys your relationship is solid and you are asking for her help in keeping it that way.
    Another explanation might simply be that she’s grown up with an image of the sorts of gifts good men bring their wives (maybe her father, maybe some movie character she liked), so she sets herself up right before opening the package. She guesses what’s inside and eagerly unwraps it to find something very different. She’s not dismayed by what’s in the package but by what’s not.
    Your answer if this appears to be the case is to do a better job of preparing her with some additional ceremony.
    You can add a handwritten card or love note, to be read before opening. Something like, “No one could deny my taste in choosing you as my wife, but I know my taste in gifts sometimes belies the struggle I face each time I try to choose something for someone so special to me, so kind, so loving. I would need to be a millionaire to find something worthy of your loving me. I hope you will see the love in this much simpler gift.”
    You can present your gift while singing love songs to her or reciting poetry.
    Or you can wrap up five or six very different inexpensive gifts and invite her to choose just one. If she opens it and looks disappointed, take it back instantly and invite her to choose again. Repeat until you get a smile, and then tell her to take as many as she wants.
    Or you can put one of those big new car bows on your old car and set her gift inside, all wrapped up with a matching bow. You say, “You know how some men buy their wives new cars for Christmas? Well, I can’t, but I got you the next-best thing, and it’s out in the driveway.”
    In each case, you shake up her expectation before it can hurt her (and your relationship).
    And well between gift-giving days, you can ask her to tell you more about how she goes about selecting the right gift for someone she cares about.

By Patty Newbold

Patty Newbold

I am a widow who got it right the second time. I have been sharing here since February 14, 2006 what I learned from that experience and from positive psychology, marriage research, and my training as a marriage educator.

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