I held up the soft flannel nightgown and matching slippers, a gift from my husband, Phil. I liked them immediately—my giving expectations had been met—until I glanced at the tag. Size medium. I’m an XL gal.
“I might have to exchange these,” I said.
“They can’t be exchanged,” Phil replied.
This nonrefundable mini-garment was mine to keep. That did not sit well with me.
After I cooled down, I suggested we stop buying gifts for each other because our gift-giving practices almost always resulted in conflict. We worked out a birthday and holiday agreement where we’d splurge on one item we wouldn’t otherwise purchase for ourselves. This arrangement eased the pressure and expectations about giving on both of us.
When I dreamed aloud about someday getting a smart watch, Phil suggested we get it for my birthday. Another time, he urged me to book a weekend at a bed-and-breakfast to write. When Phil paused to admire a pricey canoe paddle at the sporting goods store, I said, “Happy birthday! Let’s get it.” We bought a dishwasher for our 22nd anniversary, and there have even been occasions where neither of us desired anything but time with the other.
Getting to the root problem
In a private conversation during a marriage seminar more than a decade after the nightgown incident, we calmly talked about how that moment had made each of us feel. Our initial fix—no gifts—had removed the expectations and eased the friction, but true healing came when we really listened to each other’s perspectives.
Today, we strive to follow the admonition of Philippians 2:3-4: “Count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
No expectations about giving
Here are some ways that we now show everyday thoughtfulness without any expectations about giving:
- Hide notes of affirmation around the house for each other.
- Prepare the other’s favorite treat.
- Give genuine compliments.
- Take the time to ask what makes the other feel appreciated. Gift-giving doesn’t require a perfectly wrapped present, but it does require intentionality, vulnerability and good communication.