This morning as I was watching the newsfeed on my computer, the 25 most outrageous gifts given by the rich popped up. As I briefly glanced at the celebrities, I realized that while they had spent multimillions of dollars in some cases as wedding, birthday or baby arrival gifts, most of them were no longer married to the person receiving the gift. It prompted me to think about the role and purpose of gift giving in any relationship, especially in a marriage. Without a doubt, gifts are meant to make the other feel special, cared about and loved. Sometimes gifts are given as a thank you and sometimes to get something in return.
We have never been great gift givers to each other, due mostly in the dating years of our relationship and in much of the early years of our marriage to budget restrictions. In the years when our children were young we tended to make sure they received gifts on occasions, rather than each other. We tended to take the money we might have spent on a gift and treat ourselves to a quiet dinner together. The only time we have consistently given each other gifts has been on Christmas each year. Each of us has tried to make that gift a result of some time and consideration.
Those inexpensive gifts we exchanged carried lots of meaning. On our first Christmas as husband and wife I spent more than we had agreed on a beautiful white bathrobe with a rose where it buttoned at the top. She looked gorgeous in it!
Later we started to get a small gift that had special meaning. One year Rita started with three small items representing my favorite things. I won’t tell you what they were. We followed that with a more traditional gift.
When we became a two income household again and our children were mostly out on their own we began to spend more money on each other. Bob has given me some pretty jewelry and I have indulged him with lots of electronic toys that he might not otherwise have bought for himself. In these days, since we’ve retired and are trying to uncluttered our lives to some extent, we jokingly laugh about not wanting a gift or that if we really want something, we can buy it ourselves. More of what we have been doing in the most recent years is spending much of our discretionary income on travel. The last two years we have traveled on Bob’s birthday. It has been nice to be away and have a nice dinner in a city away from home.
We have also started to give each other experiences, like dinner and a show or concert, for Christmas. We have a great evening together, experience an event we probably would not otherwise, and add nothing to our material possessions. We also create good memories in the process.
We know couples who go into debt to buy an expensive gift for each other. Others spend lots of time and energy buying a gift only to have their spouse return the gift because they didn’t like it. Some have gotten to the point of shopping together on a gift for the other only so that there won’t be disappointment. Others have given their spouse a very expensive gift because they either want something in kind or something else from their spouse. Sometimes the response to a gift can be a source of hurt and tension in a relationship, when the message to the giver is that is not appreciated or not good enough.
For a while I bought nice clothes for Rita that I knew would make her look good. After a few years I stopped because it almost always had to be returned, even though I had been careful to buy the “right” size. This wasn’t Rita’s fault, but I was disappointed that my carefully chosen gift was not something she could wear. Since then I focus on items, like jewelry, that I know she won’t have to return.
Gifts are good. When gifts are chosen with love and care, and that is recognized by the recipient, they can make the other feel loved, appreciated and filled with a sense of great hope. I’m often reminded of the short story, “The Gift of the Magi” by O Henry. In it each of the spouses gives up their most precious possession to buy the other a gift that would enhance that possession. The wife cut her hair and sold it to buy a watch fob for her husband’s gold watch. He sold the watch to buy her some jeweled combs for her hair.
Gifts should come from our hearts. They don’t necessarily need to be something material. They might involve spending time or a lending a listening ear. I’m reminded of the spiritual bouquets we used to give as children. While we might not give gifts of prayers, although we could, gifts can build our relationship, rather than merely adding another possession. So as Sweetest Day is approaching—another Hallmark day to get us to spend money, perhaps the best gift we could give one another is time, a hug, a shared moment together. It might just do more for us than the million dollar jet, one celebrity gave as a wedding gift to his now ex-wife or the car another gave to her now ex-husband at the birth of their twins.
Sometimes we give the other a gift on an occasion when none is expected, or when there is no obvious “occasion”. In many ways these are the best gifts. They come from love, express gratitude and have the benefit of surprise. When Rita was teaching I sometimes would have flower delivered to her classroom. They were a disruption to her class, but her students loved it and the hoopla made the gift more special.
We’re not trying to say don’t gift material gifts to each other. We obviously have and still do. We just thought it might be good to stop and think about how gift giving affects your relationship. What expectations might result? Has gift giving caused tension and discord or do they produce wonderful feeling of appreciation and gratitude. What role do gifts play in your relationship?
Bob & Rita’s book: Forever and Day: An Invitation to Create a Marriage That Lasts a Lifetime is available on Amazon.com or by contacting us. Also available for Kindle and Nook. Make a retreat with your spouse, at home, on your time. Readings, relationship tips, questions for discussion.
Today’s scripture readings, reflection and prayer: Living Together in the Word