Relationships: When a Spouse's Gifts Miss the Mark

Editor’s Note: Our Relationships column helps parents navigate the different relationships in their lives. Email the dilemmas you're having with spouses, neighbors, teachers and, of course, your children to and we’ll ask both professionals and our readers for their advice.


Q: My otherwise-wonderful husband is terrible at picking out gifts. I once got a vacuum cleaner for Christmas. For Valentine’s Day, he bought some red carnations straight from the supermarket and a box of bad chocolates. He says there’s too much pressure to find the perfect gift and so he panics. Meanwhile, I have friends who get poems and hand-carved jewelry boxes. Am I making too much of this?


This question is answered by Gloria Spitalny, a psychologist and marriage counselor in Boston.


A: I have found that husbands who make a gift as opposed to buying a gift have much more success in the “melting-heart-from-a-gift” department. This is because making a gift requires more right-brain effort and a deeper understanding of what a woman wants.


I will say that in your specific case, it sounds like you’re making too much of his weakness in not selecting romantic presents for you. We need to focus on our partner’s strengths first, and then help our partners move closer toward understanding our emotional needs. 


Start by telling hubby how wonderful he is, then talk about the types of things that turn you on, maybe go as far as telling him about presents that your friends received to ignite his competitive juices. Or email him a “gift treasure map” of three to five presents that you would be thrilled to receive. Combine thoughtful, romantic gifts with one spicy gift, and reevaluate after more results.


One client took the “make a gift” approach to the highest level of creativity and worked with a cartoonist to sketch out the couple’s entire romantic story in a six-panel comic. This gift-giving act alone improved the couple’s sex life for an entire year. Gifts, when executed flawlessly, can be instrumental to relationship bliss.


In closing, I do want to remind you that you said your husband is “otherwise wonderful.” Well, believe it or not, “otherwise wonderful” is increasingly hard to find, so just smile, be happy!


Input from our Readers


“Poor guy, just tell him what you really want! He loves you but he's clueless. I know because that sounds like me.”

– Kyle in Burlington


“Have him go with one of your kids, or a good friend to get your gift. I learned my lesson after getting a lawn mower for Mother's Day one year. I returned the favor though and got him a sewing machine for Father’s Day.”

– Amy in Walpole


“My husband has performance anxiety (for gift-giving, that is), too. I usually hint around to my daughters or mother (and even his mother).”

– Jessica in Whitman


“Yesterday, I was at Family Dollar and saw some Valentine’s Day cards – nice cards at great prices (only $1), so I picked one up for my son, one for my husband, then saw one that said, ‘For my beautiful wife’ and yep, I got it and gave it to my husband so he can give to me. I love what it said in the inside; it described me to a tee.”

– Maria in South Boston

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