After being away on business, Clarence McDougal thought it would be nice to bring his wife a little gift. “How about some perfume?” he asked the cosmetics clerk.

She showed him a bottle costing $50. 00. “That is a bit much,” said Clarence.
So the clerk returned with a smaller bottle for $30. 00. “That’s still quite a bit,” Clarence groused.

Growing annoyed, the cosmetics clerk brought out a tiny $15. 00 bottle. “What I mean,” said Clarence, “is I would like to see something really cheap.”

So the clerk handed him a mirror.


When we date, gift giving feels like a pretty natural part of our relationship. After all, we’re still trying to win someone over and show our best self. For many for whom giving gifts isn’t natural, either because it wasn’t modeled for us, or because we feel our partners should just love us for who we are and not what we have to offer them, it’s the first thing to taper off. If this was something that was a natural part of the relationship before, the relationship it will feel like it’s really lacking if it doesn’t happen now.

What is the symbolism or significance behind gift giving?

Russel Belk, professor of consumer behavior at York University, Toronto, 3 stages: Economic exchange, Social Exchange Romantic giving

  1. Economic exchange:

Solely for the purpose of fueling a dynamic in a relationship. So that you keep going out with each other.

2. Social Exchange:

Goes deeper beneath the surface. Do we share similar values? Do we like the same things? Do you understand me?

3. Romantic giving: 

This is more about selfless consideration. Not thinking about what is important to the giver, but fully embracing what is important to the receiver. What you’re saying is: I see you, I understand you, I know you.

What is the purpose of gift giving?

There are many purposes to gift giving. On a more simplistic, superficial, technical level the purpose is to get someone to think kindly of them. They’re sending a message, “I like you, I want you to like me, accept this gift.” However, once you are already in a committed relationship gift giving has to move up to something a bit deeper. The longer you are together, the more you are expected to know one another.

So when you’re dating, a person may give a gift that you’re not all that crazy about, but because you like them (presumably for who they are and not what they have to offer(. You are touched by their thought and accept the gift graciously.

Once you’re in a committed relationship, gifts become more about your connection. So if your partner gets you something you aren’t crazy about that you feel is cheap, or not your taste, your feelings may get hurt. The same gift that may have been accepted graciously at the beginning of your courtship and that may have even sparked your connection, now feels like poison. The way that you react to this gift will make all the difference in how you feel about and connect with your partner.

If your relationship is really strong and you feel really connected to your partner and gifts don’t mean all that much to you, it may not really matter what kind of gift your partner gives. You’ll accept it graciously and the positive way in which the gift is given and received will be a positive boost to your relationship.

If on the other hand your relationship doesn’t feel as solid, the gift will have that much more weight. So if you get it wrong, the receiver will accept it badly and this can put a real dent in the relationship.

Gift giving is supposed to make us feel more connected, however the hidden meaning behind the gift is “I see you, I know you, I get you.” Which in turn is what makes us feel safely connected.

If our partner gets us a gift that we feel makes us feel known to them, we then feel loved and cherished. If it feels like the gift is misaligned with our values or doesn’t represent us in some way, it can make us feel like we aren’t treading on solid ground.

Does a gift have to be a tangible object? How do you know what your partner would be happy to receive anyway?

According to Gary Chapman, author of The Five Love Languages, he claims that different types of giving speak to different kinds of people. Gifts is only one such language.

Some gifts last a long time others not as much. What’s most import is the emotion that is communicated with the gift.

For people for whom receiving gifts is of paramount importance, understanding that this is the way to their heart is an important one.

However, if your love language is Gift receiving, you must also understand it may not be your partners love language and accept that this is OK that they show their love in a different way.  Some people for whatever reason feel uncomfortable receiving gifts.

The 5 Love languages are:

Words of Affirmation

Acts of Service

Quality Time

Physical Touch

And of course Gifts

Giving out of obligation, vs from a place of love:

As I already mentioned giving when we’re dating or early on in our relationships, it often feels easier to give because we’re trying to win that person over.  As our relationship moves on different things will get in the way. We might mistakenly say things to hurt our partner. We may feel hurt from something our partner said and feel the need to withhold. A whole bunch of things may happen that get in the way of giving.

In order for gifts to be impactful on the relationship, consider the following:


  • How do you feel about giving the gift?
  • Are you giving out of obligation, or desire?
  • What’s your relationship with gift giving? While it may not feel natural, if your partner likes it, this may be an area to stretch yourself. It can be a growth inspiring experience.
  • If you give begrudgingly don’t expect a glorious response
  • If you give from your heart, because of how it will make your partner feel, not because of what you will receive in return
  • You can think about it in terms of the difference between how Cain and Hevel’s Korbanot were given  to G-d and how they were received.  Hevel, Able, gave from the best of his flock. Cain gave his left over fruit that was going off. We see how G-d graciously received Hevel’s offering and how he rejected Cain’s offering.

When it comes to receiving:

  • Consider how you communicate your love language clearly to your partner
  • Know that they won’t always get it right
  • Know that their intentions are usually good
  • If you don’t feel good vibes about receiving, talk about it with kindness.
  • Find out what your partner’s philosophy is about gift giving
  • Always believe that your partner is trying their best to give, and they may not have been as blessed as you to grow up receiving. So encourage them by showing graciousness and gratitude.

To sum it up

-Make sure your intentions are pure.

-Give from your heart.

-Know you won’t always get the gift right, but A for genuine effort.

  • Make sure that with the correct thoughts and emotions you should be able to give a gift that makes you and your partner feel connected and boost your relationship.
  • If your intentions of giving is only to receive (read sex) know it will almost always fall flat.

The Dark side of the Gift, Journal of Business Research John F.SherryJr.Mary AnnMcGrathSidney J.Levy

If you would like help in this area or in any other area of your love life, please feel free to reach out:

Micki Lavin-Pell is a professional Marriage therapist and Relationship Coach. Check out her website for more information about how she can greatly improve the success of your relationships:

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