Jenny Block explains: Why presence is paramount when it comes to presents

It’s that time of year — time to talk about presents. But it’s also time to talk about presence. Gift-giving should be fun, not stressful. It shouldn’t break the bank. It shouldn’t cause fights. It shouldn’t make people feel guilty or sad. And it certainly shouldn’t ruin relationships. Unfortunately, it has a tendency to do all of those things. Because the biggest problem when it comes to giving presents, is a lack of presence.

Presence on both the part of the giver and the receiver is essential in order to keep gift-giving what it should be: a happy experience for everyone involved. It’s vital to remember that gifts are never required, no matter what the occasion. So putting yourself in that mindset is key to avoiding stress and disappointment. If expectations are too high, or too off, or too anything, you set yourself up for a real disaster.

That’s why it’s equally as important to keep in mind that no one is a mind reader. No one. If the giftee and the gifter don’t clarify expectations, it’s very likely that disappointment will ensue. Are you an “every holiday should be marked with a gift” kind of person? Are you an “if it’s not jewelry how can you even call it a gift” kind of lady? Are you a “create it yourself or don’t even bother” kind of woman? Are you an “if it costs that much what are you trying to make up for” kind of person? Are you a “please let me give you a list and please don’t stray even an inch” kind of girl? Are you a “surprise me or forget it” kind of person?

Whoever you are, the person giving the gift needs to know that. You need to be present enough to be aware that one girl’s present is another girl’s deal-breaker.

The problem with gifts is that despite the fact that gift-giving should be all ribbons and roses, it — like everything else in a relationships — is fraught with a landmine of past baggage. Perhaps your father never gave your mother the “right” gift, and fighting always followed. Perhaps your last partner never got what she asked for, no matter how reasonable her asks might have been or how specific she was. Perhaps your girlfriend/fiancée/wife/whatever feels as if she never received any sort of thanks — even the most modest of thanks — for gifts she’s given.

Any of these things could leave either or both of you so raw that gifts become a huge point of contention and end up saying far more — or far different things — than you ever, ever intended. A piece of jewelry could mean you’re trying to buy her love to one and it could mean a lifetime commitment to another, and it could mean a complete lack of thought and a reliance on clichés to another.

Giving a surprise instead of something on her list could be thrilling to one, devasting to another, and cruel or unkind or even controlling to yet others. As if you don’t trust her enough or love her enough or respect her enough to allow her to choose her own gifts. Like I said, it can be a landmine.

Here’s the thing: It doesn’t have to be. We have to make presence part of giving presents. We have to be present enough to talk to our partner, to really listen to our partner and to be mindful of everything that might go along with gift-giving both for ourselves and our partner. Tell her if the holidays have always been a source of disappointment. Tell her if people have hurt you by trying to buy your love. Tell her if your parents ignored your wishes because “they knew best.” Heck, tell her if you grew up with so little or have always had so little that gift-giving now that you’re financially stable can be overwhelming.

By the same token, listen to her when she tells her story and shares her feelings. It feels wonderful to give but only when the gift is received in the manner in which you intended it. It feels amazing to be given a gift but never when it feels like a manipulation on either end–as if they felt forced to give or you felt forced to receive.

If you are feeling uneasy or stressed or sad or even angry or scared when the topic of gifts comes up or the time to exchange comes around, something is wrong, and it deserves to be fixed. This is true in all relationships, friends, family, whatever — but most certainly when it comes to the person whose heart you hold.

Just like everything in a relationship, it’s as simple — and as complicated — as having a real conversation where you take the time to put your feelings aside as you really listen and then be candid enough and trusting enough to allow your partner to do the same for you. When it comes to giving presents, your presence is not just requested, it’s required.

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