By Hannah Joseph


The Situation:

Hello all,
For the month of December, the column received many of the same types of questions: “What do I get my significant other for the holidays if we’ve been dating for under a year?” “What if we’re just casually dating?” “How much should I spend on my spouse if we share a bank account?” Yes, the art of gift giving is a tricky one to master. Whether you know it or not, what you buy for your significant other sends a clear message about your opinion of him and your expectations for the relationship as a whole. Just be careful to not send the wrong message. …Which brings us to this month’s situation: How much is too much?

The Solve:

Relationships come in all different shapes and sizes, ranging from the truly blissful to the truly doomed, and touching on every grey in between. During the holiday season, the stress of finding the perfect gift often outweighs the joy of giving and receiving. The reason for this is simple: Giving a tangible object to symbolize your affections for another forces you to define your relationship with that person. The biggest mistake that you can make is giving a gift that doesn’t fit the relationship. Dr. Nili Sachs, a relationship expert with 32 years of experience, helped us compile a shortlist of what to do and what not to do when shopping for your partner.

This week’s expert is Dr. Nili Sachs, marriage counselor and acclaimed author.

For couples that are not married, do not buy your partner more than one gift. According to Dr. Sachs, “It says that you are desperate. Not only do you send him the message that if he is with you, you will shower him with gifts, but you are castrating him. No matter what he gives you at that point, it will be too little!” It also gives your partner the impression that you are compensating for something missing in the relationship. Before you reach for another present, ask yourself why the first one wasn’t good enough.
Do align yourself with his wishes. For instance, my friend is giving her boyfriend (who has always wanted to go to flight school) a flight lesson. Gifts that show your partner that you have been listening to his desires and needs are perfect. Also, show him, through conversation or a joke, what you want. Otherwise, Dr. Sachs indicated, “He is just a bull in a china shop.”
Do not use presents as tools of emotional warfare. Just because you remembered an offhand comment he made about wanting that autographed vintage album, don’t expect him to get you the new leather briefcase you’ve been pining for. “If the gift becomes a test to see if he loves you or if he’s generous, he will flunk,” said Dr. Sachs. “If the gift is being given out of love and attention, you will have a better future.”
Do not load your present down with expectations. If you aren’t at the “I love you” stage, don’t use the holidays as an excuse to get there. Things heavy emotional connotations, or require work on his part, aren’t a good idea unless you are COMPLETELY sure that he’s ready to reciprocate the same kinds of feelings. High maintenance gifts include: love poems or confessions of love, vacations, etc. These gifts require a willingness from your partner to commit as much as you’ve committed to the relationship. Will he want to spend an uninterrupted week with you in Mexico? Is he ready to read an “I love you” limerick? These are things to consider.
Do value your time and effort. If you spend a lot of thought and effort on finding him a present, the price tag shouldn’t matter. A labor of love can be a wonderful gift.
As for married couples, Dr. Sachs suggests that both partners consider their mutual budget and shop for presents together. Unless you want to surprise your significant other, do make shopping for each other an event. After all – between entertaining family and holiday preparations -spending quality alone time together might be the best gift of all.
And for men looking to pop the question, the ring will probably big the biggest and most important gift you will ever buy your partner. So instead of sweating over the size of the diamond, its clarity and shape, Dr. Sachs suggests that you buy a “filler” ring (that you can return) for the proposal and attach a jeweler’s card to the box with the time and date of your ring-shopping appointment. This will prevent any disappointment that your original choice might have resulted in. If you’re not going to propose, never, never buy her any kind of ring. The explanation for why it’s not an engagement ring will undermine any kind of romantic gesture you had in mind.

With a good list of tips to take with you on your shopping trip, we hope you have an easier time finding the perfect gift for your significant other. And if you have any questions for The Situation Room, you can always email me at [email protected]. Good luck and happy holidays!

All the best,


Originally published December 2008



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