Sure, it might make you nervous. In fact, exchanging gifts during the holiday season with your partner can cause a kind of true-blue dread for some. The idea of getting the wrong thing or on the other hand, the hard to admit but very real fear of receiving something that might make you feel under-appreciated, can make the process less than enjoyable. But how important is gift giving in a relationship, anyway? Is it OK to get a few gag gifts and call it a day?
Relationship and sex coach Michele Lisenbury Christensen says that gift-giving in is often "anxiety-producing and frustrating," because people get more focused on not getting it wrong than on how to have fun with the process and help their partner feel loved. That being said, if your relationship is pretty solid, it's not going to make or break anything.
"Gift-giving is not super high-stakes, but it is an opportunity to show you care and deepen your connection," Christensen says. But in the best cases, besides getting your partner that extra pack of undies and the book they've been eyeing every time you're at the bookstore, you want to give a gift that touches their heart. So it takes a little planning and consideration to tune into who they are and what feels loving to them, Christensen says.
"Above all, go into the process with love and a sense of fun," Christensen says. "Your enjoyment will shine through the gift. Second, think of it as a puzzle: you get to crack the mystery of what would delight your partner and make them feel loved and cherished."
Christensen gives some tips on how to go about doing that. First of all, ask yourself to consider their favorite things; the favorite parts of their day, favorite seldom-enjoyed treats, or favorite hobbies or pastimes. Simply start to identify the things that matter most to them, or the things they want more of, Christensen says. Then ask yourself how you might help to enhance those activities (some great speakers to go with that record player they're always using) or or reduce frustration for them (a new bike, because the one they love riding to work can't properly shift gears.)
And it is important to consider how important gifts are to your partner when you go about the whole process, Christensen says. It might be a lot more important to them than it is to you, or visa versa.
"You can to look at how they respond to gifts from other people and how much time and energy they put into selecting and giving gifts themselves," Christensen says. "If they put a lot in, they want you to do the same."
If you've ever heard the famous book Gary Chapman’s Love Languages, which has turned into a cultural phenomenon over the years, you might be able to incorporate this guideline into gift giving. For those who aren't familiar, it is basically a way to organize and understand the way people "express and experience" love. Chapman identifies a person's love language as words of affirmation, acts of service, receiving gifts, quality time, and physical touch.
Professional counselor and relationship therapist Rabbi Shlomo Slatkin tells Bustle that when it comes to gift giving, it's about learning the way your partner feels and interprets love. Sometimes couples have opposite love languages!
"Learning to love the way our partner feels loved gives us an opportunity to grow into a more balanced person," Slatkin says. "If you are the type that doesn’t need anything, it may be hard for you to give gifts. Even if you wouldn’t want someone to spend money on you, focus on the feeling that the receiver will have and give with a full heart."
But overall, incorporating their love language into the gift can be something like getting a massage for your touch-loving partner, or offering an act of service, like finally building that bed frame because you're so good with wood. And hey, if you aren't sure how important gifts are to your partner — you can always just go ahead and ask.
Relationship and sex coach Michele Lisenbury Christensen,
Professional counselor and relationship therapist Rabbi Shlomo Slatkin.