During a recent train journey, I struck up a conversation with a lady who explained she was going to buy her husband a Christmas gift - a pricey shower gel - the only thing he had ever expressed any liking for that she had noticed. It was marvellous that she was willing to go to such lengths, literally, to get him this gift but, his lack of preference gave me a clue that might help her get something even better for him. I explained that some people tend to like tangible things - stuff. And some people tend to prefer experiences. She immediately realised he was an 'experiences' person. I asked her what he enjoyed doing and she said 'cooking'. When I suggested he might like a weekend away at a cooking class in a country house she was sure he would.
Having a new perspective on gift-giving can really help make your gift extra-delightful. From the perspective of a therapist, the best gifts fulfil one criterion - they bring you closer. This means you...
- Give a gift that's supposed to make a point. No books on weight loss, or parenting skills - if you want to make a point, use your words, not Christmas.
- Give a gift that's really for you in disguise. No lingerie from men or therapy sessions from women. (Surveys show the number one complaint from husbands is not enough sex and the number one complaint from wives is not enough conversation.)
- Give the type of gift (stuff/experiences) that you prefer. At least get that part right.
There's an episode of the Simpson's where Homer gives Marge a bowling ball as a gift because what he secretly wants for himself is a bowling ball. He expects she'll reject the 'gift' and he'll nab the ball. This backfires massively when Marge realises his plan and decides to get bowling lessons and use the ball after all. She has time away from the family, highlighting to Homer how much he needs her and, she has a flirtation with the bowling instructor which really freaks-out Homer. So, if you don't want to provoke your spouse, no gifts with a hidden agenda!
Instead, start by ascertaining one thing - are they a 'stuff' person or an 'experiences' person. Some people like stuff - they see the value embodied in an item and cherish it for its own sake and for its symbolic meaning. On the other hand, some people prefer experiences, they don't mind the ephemeral nature of a balloon ride or a cooking class as they cherish the feelings and the memories more.
Here are a few ideas for each type of gift recipient that should make your relationship closer...
- The autobiography and DVD of someone your spouse admires - let them grow through the life lessons of others.
- Equipment for the hobby of your spouse. Get advice from someone in the industry who knows what's needed. Take photos of your spouse's gear so your advisor can see what's missing.
- Tailor-made clothes/shoes. The uniqueness sends a message about how special they are in your eyes.
- Monogrammed items say you're proud of them and their name.
- The repair of something precious to them like an antique or family heirloom. Make sure you find the expert in the field though - you might want permission for this one.
- A solution to a problem they have, e.g. having a new light fixture fitted in their office because they struggle to see their work at night.
- Framing their favourite photo or artwork says they are worthy of attention and recognition.
- Replacing old car seats for new, comfortable ones. They'll feel your support every time they drive.
- Cooking class. Your spouse can go alone if they need space or with you if that's what they prefer.
- Car racing experience. For the excitement junkies, this will make you seem very exciting by association.
- A meeting with someone they admire, e.g. a trip to a book-signing with their favourite author. This says you've noticed what they love.
- A concert ticket to a band they loved as a teen - nothing imprints like the music we grew up to.
- A tattoo. Encourage the rebel in them if that's what they always wanted.
- Dental work - for some people their smile is something they've never liked and this can be a life-changing experience for many people.
- Fresh flowers delivered fortnightly for a year - truly the gift that keeps giving and keeps you top of mind all year long!
The trick is to think about the underlying message you want to send; "I support you", "I encourage you", "I admire you". And then imagine what symbolises that message? It can be stuff or it can be an experience but, what makes it bring you closer is the underlying message.