When it comes to the holidays, there are those who plan months ahead, thoughtfully selecting the perfect gifts and those who procrastinate down to the last moment, hurtling through the crowds on a wild-eyed, manic mission to find anything that will do. Whatever your approach to the issue, gift-giving can be a stressful process, especially when it comes down to choosing a gift for the one you love.

The tenth anniversary disaster

Take my friend Ken, who faced with the challenge of a tenth wedding anniversary to celebrate, was quite convinced that his lovely wife Deb would be thrilled with the sapphire ring he selected for her. It was a a spectacular ring, but as I admired it on her finger, Deb sighed and confided that really what she had wanted was to have the driveway resurfaced.

Who knew?

If anyone would have known that she’s the type of girl who prefers a cement truck to a Tiffany box, perhaps it should have been the guy whose been by her side for the last decade?

Poor Ken had such awesome intentions but he made the classic mistake of giving what he thought would be a great gift instead of giving her what would really make her happy. That of course, was only the beginning of the problem, because then he felt unappreciated and got really mad with her that she wasn’t being grateful. As you can imagine, it didn’t turn into quite the romantic night they were hoping for.

Life-long immunity from the Epic Fail

The good news is that there is a solution to this thorny problem, a gift-giving hack that will grant you life-long immunity from the Epic Fail and transform you into the Superhero who blows their mind every time. It’s not rocket science, people. It’s the deceptively simple idea of giving people what they actually want. In fact, this is a hack that has benefits way beyond gift-giving for your relationship.

The key to success is in taking time to figure out your partner’s unique values instead of assuming that they might appreciate what would be on the top of your list. As we saw with Ken, you can put a heck of a lot of effort in to doing something to make somebody feel loved, but if you are not communicating in their language, the message is not going to be received the way it is intended. It’s not just enough to avoid the obvious mistake of giving what you would like, you need to take time to understand your partner’s preferences.

Are you speaking the same language?

Marriage Counselor Gary Chapman would describe this as learning your partner’s “love language” which is how he describes the idea that everybody has a primary way that they express and interpret love. In his book, the 5 Love Languages, Gary identified five key ways in which people feel loved: Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Quality Time, Physical Touch and, of course, Receiving Gifts.

Thinking about yourself  and your significant other  for a moment. In order for you to feel loved which of the following would you prefer that they did?

a) wrote you a poem

b) took care of household chore without being asked

c) stared deeply into your eyes over a candle-lit dinner

d) gave you a massage

e) bought you something

Of course, I’d personally like to add,

f) all of the above

to the options but for the sake of this exercise, just go with it and pick one.

Of course, your preferences may also change at different times. If you are really struggling to decide, try thinking about which ones you could live without and use a process of elimination. Next, think about which of these your partner appreciates most – (consider which of these they ask for most or perhaps even which of these they complain about not getting).

Creating a wish list

If you have the time, (assuming you’re not reading this post with only 8 shopping hours to go), my best suggestion is to do this exercise together. It’s a great idea for a date. If you’re really daring, you could even try it on a first date.

Grab pen and paper for each of you, explain the categories and then write down your list in order – no peeking. Just for fun, try and guess what your partner has written first, before you share them with each other. Of course, this list doesn’t need to be restricted to the five categories above. For one thing, I think the “physical touch” category is better broken down into Sexual and Non-sexual touch. For some people, it is a massage without the “happy ending” that would really mean the most, whereas for others, they would feel most loved being on the receiving end of an expression of unbridled passion. Feel free to add things of your own like  “Bring me flowers”.

Do you see where this is going?

If you apply this logic to the holiday gift-giving dilemma, you suddenly have many other possibilities to choose from as a gift, since for many people, the gift of “I will spend the weekend helping you clean out the basement” would be actually worth way more than any of the things you are considering buying.

It’s the thought that counts

But just because it’s not a physical gift, it doesn’t mean you can skimp on the presentation.

You could buy a little wooden box to place your love poem in or  you might like to create a personalized gift card, or series of vouchers especially tailored to your beloved’s desires. Now you’re scoring points and saving money – that’s what I call a “win-win”. And as a bonus, if you’ve done this exercise together, you will notice that your partner now knows exactly what would make you happy this holiday season!  At the holidays, it’s easy to get caught up in the commercialism, but if you remember the real reason behind your desire to give this person a gift, you’ll have a much better chance of successfully achieving your goal. After all, it is the thought that counts.

(Photo credit: Portrait of a girl sitting and looking at a gift box from Shutterstock)

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