This post is about a common relationship issue, though an uncommonly discussed issue: gift anxiety. With the Hallmark holidays constantly expanding, people in a significant relationship are all in the same boat of constantly looking for new ways to make their significant other feel special on a gift-giving occasion. But what isn’t always discussed is the anxiety that many people feel in having to generate new ideas and still have them be meaningful.
Whether in the beginning of a new relationship or in a 40-year marriage, couples each have their own dynamics, and some have ways of diminishing their anxieties about gift-giving. For example, some agree that they don’t buy each other gifts on any day except for a birthday. While this shows that the couple is on the same page, which is a good thing, it can also create more problems. Couples with this agreement often end up worrying that if they don’t do something special, even with this agreement in place, it will seem like they don’t care. So the avoided gift-giving anxiety ends up turning into a “will it look like I don’t care if I don’t do something anyway?” anxiety.
So, what are some solutions to the gift-giving anxiety? There are several ways to approach this issue:
— Keep a List:
The most effective way to approach this issue is to be in tune with your partner. If we really pay attention throughout the year, partners give plenty of clues as to what they would like. What are your partner’s hobbies and interests? What websites attract their attention? Do they discuss things they’ve been wanting but haven’t gotten around to buying or doing (spas/massages, music lessons, weekend getaways)? These clues often come scattered throughout the year. When they surface, write them down on a constantly growing list that you keep in a special place. It only takes about 15 seconds, and you’ve just eliminated a piece of anxiety simply by having one option.
— Ask your partner’s friends:
This might be a tougher one to get motivated for — it risks some ego injury to admit to our partner’s friends that we don’t know the “perfect” gift. But these clues described above are often stored with friends. And with social media around, it’s easy to just drop a quick message.
— Remember the past:
Sometimes we may forget the things we’ve done with our partners can lend a tremendous hand with gifts. Was there a meaningful vacation, outing, food, or place? There are many creative ways to work this into a gift (i.e. photo collages, personalized games, photo albums, even fully re-creating an experience, etc.). If you have the meaningful moment from the past in mind but not the creative idea, this is also a good place to check with his/her friends for help.
— Ask your partner directly:
But doesn’t this ruin the element of surprise? The answer is: it depends on when you ask. If you ask the week of their birthday, then it could. However, if you ask randomly during the course of the year, then you have a list started that he/she could likely forget about by the time the next occasion arrives. And then you could always add to the list when clues start to surface.
— Do a list exchange:
This is tied to the one immediately above, but lists exchanged by both partners (during a random time of year) can actually do wonders for anxiety and comfort. Instead of feeling inadequate, by both doing a list it puts you on the same level together of giving and getting help. Neither one of you is perfect and this allows you to experience this acceptance together. Preface this by actually telling your partner that you want to make him/her feel special but that you become overwhelmed by stress and anxiety, and a list exchange would really be helpful for you.
— Radical Acceptance
Gift-giving anxiety is often linked with idealization and perfectionism. The perception is that there is a perfect gift and anything short of this gift is a failure. The problem is that the fantasy is often split off from reality. This is a struggle for many people, so you are not alone in this struggle. But practicing accepting that a “very nice and thoughtful” gift need not be the “one perfect” gift may be helpful. It will open doors to gifts that normally would be dismissed as “not good enough”. The more options you open yourself to, the less the anxiety will be.
If anxiety, stress, overthinking, or perfectionism is something you tend to struggle with in other areas of life outside of gift-giving, then it may be good to consider therapy for help, especially if you notice the anxiety becoming an obstacle, either practically or emotionally in your life.
Contact Nathan Feiles to inquire about therapy.