The Art of Gift Giving in Relationships

Things to consider when you’re picking the perfect Christmas gift for your significant other

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Question: My girlfriend and I have been dating for about five months, and I’m not sure what to get her for Christmas. What is too much, and what is too little? Are there “rules” to gift giving during the holidays?
Answer: The art of gift giving is in balancing your budget, your beliefs about gifts in general, and the marketing machine of our consumer culture that tells us to “spend, spend, spend!” It can be difficult to know what’s too much, and what’s too little.

Budget

Let’s start with your budget. The magic of Christmas doesn’t mean you spend money you don’t have and it will magically appear when your credit card bill is due! Start by deciding how much you can spend for your whole list, and then determine what you can spend on your girlfriend. It is a gift to yourself to be responsible with the treasure God has entrusted to you. Although you may not have considered it before, you can actually pray over your finances and ask for help in discerning where you should spend and where you should save.

Message

Next, consider what you want to say with your gift. How long you’ve been dating and how seriously you are dating are important criteria. If you want to keep things light and casual, then go with something more generic, meaning a gift most anyone would enjoy (maybe a gift certificate for a massage). If you want to express that you see your girlfriend as someone special in your life, then move toward a more personal gift. This can be something you know she likes or something you’ve seen her pick out.

It doesn’t all have to be said through the money you spend. Sometimes the card can say much more then the item, and adding a card is a good way to make a generic gift more personal. If you want to say, “This is serious to me,” then it’s time to pull out the stops.

If you know she is passionate about a cause, you can make a donation in her name or support a ministry she’s involved in. It’s all about showing that you are paying attention. And, it doesn’t all have to be said through the money you spend. Sometimes the card can say much more then the item, and adding a card is a good way to make a generic gift more personal. If you want to say, “This is serious to me,” then it’s time to pull out the stops. This might mean surprising her with a carriage ride or romantic evening, all the way up to expensive jewelry or a trip if it is within your budget.

I was in a similar situation; I had been dating my boyfriend for about four or five months around Christmas. We were exclusive and serious, but still getting to know each other. While at the mall, he suggested we step into a jewelry store to look for a gift for me. I don’t think he realized it, but the jewelry store we were standing in front of was Tiffany’s. Bring a woman into Tiffany’s, and she’s going to find something she loves for about three times the amount you want to spend. I saw some amazing diamond earrings for $1,500. They were exquisite and sparkling, and I wanted those earrings. I remember my boyfriend’s face at that moment — a mixture of, “Wow, I really want to get these for her,” and, “I had no intention of spending that much … Is she going to be high maintenance?”

When I realized what it would mean to him if I picked out such an expensive gift, I decided to let him off the hook. And yes, I still want those earrings to this day. But it wasn’t worth communicating to him that I needed him to spend a lot of money to make me feel special. I figured if he was going to buy me expensive jewelry, he could put the money into an engagement ring. And six months later, that’s exactly what he did.

Communication

So, your gift reflects both your personality and the personality of your relationship. What are your own beliefs about gift giving? Do you know your girlfriend’s feelings about it? Is this something you can talk about openly, even if you want to surprise her?

For some people, gift giving is their love language; giving and receiving gifts is a way they gauge how important someone is or how important the relationship is. For others, a hike to a romantic view would be more significant than a wrapped present. Recognize that honoring how your girlfriend wants to receive care through gifts is an important way to get to know her. Do you see her giving very thoughtful gifts to others? Then it’s a good idea to put some thought into your gift to her. If you’re the type of guy that doesn’t need much, don’t assume she feels the same way. If she’s the type of girl that doesn’t need much, then don’t go overboard.

In the end, the right relationship won’t be made or broken on the choice of a single gift. It’s the process of deciding what you want to say with your gift and how you want to recognize your relationship that’s important. As with any art, there is no “right” way to choose a gift. If you are intentional about showing you care, then you can’t go wrong.

Michele Fleming

Michele Fleming, Ph.D., is a counselor, relationship coach, national speaker, and writer on Christian relationships. She has a master’s in clinical psychology with an emphasis on the integration of Christian theology. Her Ph.D. research focused on dating and relationships. She is also an adjunct professor for the Townsend Institute for Leadership and Counseling in Concordia University’s Organizational Leadership Graduate Program. Her website is drmichelefleming.com.