Cash & Coupling: Are Your Gift-Giving Styles In Sync?

My husband is like a child when it comes to giving gifts. He shops big – both big price tags and big impact — and he’s usually even more excited about giving me my gifts than I am about getting them. They’re always really nice – for my 30th birthday I got an iPad – and he literally can’t wait to give them to me. (I got the unwrapped iPad weeks before my actual birthday.) I, on the other hand, gravitate towards thoughtful gifts with smaller price tags. The money he puts behind my (often bling-y) gifts caught me off guard earlier in our relationship, and it’s taken me almost six years to convince him that every holiday doesn’t require an over-the-top gift.

If this is your first Christmas with your man, wondering whether he’s getting you a gift and how much you should invest in his can be totally intimidating. If you’ve paid enough attention throughout the year (or however long you’ve been together), you already have an idea whether your gift-giving styles are compatible. Gift giving shouldn’t be considered an eye-for-an-eye situation, but there’s nothing worse than an unbalanced and awkward gift exchange. To save yourself the angst of having to pretend that you love the cutting board he got you, you may need to look at whether you have differing gift-giving styles. For tips on how to adjust your expectations as a couple so you can enjoy the holiday together, we talked to Dr. Jan Hoistad, a licensed psychologist, educator, and coach with over 30 years of experience. Here are her top tips.

Discuss your expectations. Don’t assume that you are (or aren’t!) going to exchange gifts. “A couple dating more slowly or more cautiously might either give smaller gifts or decide to wait a bit. But most couples who are exclusively dating expect some gift — or at least the gals do,” says Dr. Hoistad. All of your firsts as a couple are special, so you want to make sure your first holiday together is a great one. “How a couple begins anything in their relationship creates a foundation. It’s always great to create a foundation you’d both like and enjoy, rather than having to rebuild a foundation later, or harboring resentments.,” says Dr. Hoistad. Even if you’ve been with your man for years, it may be a good idea to talk about your gift-giving thoughts – especially if you were disappointed last year or if your situation has changed. “I always encourage couples to have a discussion about holidays and gift giving,” says Dr. Hoistad. “A little one if you are newer, and maybe more in-depth if your relationship is a bit longer and maybe more complex (adding on friend and family gift-giving, differences in your income, or if you’ve had a bad past experience).”

Recognize your different love languages. You may feel the most loved when your significant other goes out of his way to take care of you by putting gas in your car or taking out the trash, but you need to make sure that he’s not looking for a new Xbox to feel your love. “Each person has a unique love language and some attach their notion of love to a gift,” says Dr. Hoistad. Consider what your love language is – if either of you consider gifts a sign of love, it’s gonna mean that the thought and expense behind the gifts may be more important than you realized.

Acknowledge that you come from different backgrounds. “Each person has a unique holiday and gift giving experience developed over their lifetime,” says Dr. Hoistad. The way your parents lavished – or refrained from lavishing – gifts on you as a child may affect your expectations now, and the same goes for your partner. If it’s important to either of you that the tree be crowded with packages, you need to understand where this expectation is coming from. Plus, you never know; you may learn that his background leads to great ideas. Maybe his dad always took his mom on a fabulous post-Christmas holiday trip – if this is the kind of thing that sounds really romantic to you, you’d hate for him to hesitate to suggest it because you’ve been busy hinting about decorations bought at Tiffany’s.

Be aware that you may be in different places financially. If you aren’t married or sharing finances, don’t assume you know what’s going on with your partner’s checking account. He may love you a bazillion dollars worth, but have a more humble gift budget. “Each of you has a current income or lack thereof that contributes to how you approach holidays,” Jan reminds us. So sure, maybe you know he earns a good income, but don’t put pressure on him to spend money that he may simply not have – and talk about your situation to make sure that he treats you with the same respect.

Go with the flow. “The best advice is to keep it simple,” advises Dr. Hoistad. When you’re talking, don’t feel like you have to come up with incredibly involved plans for how much to spend or even what traditions you’re going to start. “Allow for some flexibility between you and allow some flexibility and change over the years. Focus on creating new traditions, your own traditions together. Focus on creating a foundation of connection, intimacy, good communication and fun between you. That can be the best gift ever.”

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