When done right, gifts can be an expression of love and caring and can bring a couple closer together. Yet, gifts can often be a sore point and can produce the opposite result. Before you give or receive your next gift, here are five things you need to know:
- Know Your Love Language- Everyone has different ways of feeling loved. We tend to show our love to others in the way we ourselves feel loved. For some of us, gifts are our love language. That means we feel loved when we receive gifts and give gifts to express our feelings of fondness. If gifts are not your thing and don’t do much for you, be aware that they may be just what your spouse needs to feel loved. Don’t underestimate the power of a gift. Even something small can have a huge impact on someone who likes receiving gifts. If you are a gift giver and your spouse is not, a physical present may not be what they need to feel that connection to you, so don’t be disappointed if your gift doesn’t do the trick.
- It’s the thought that counts, the power of intention– At the inauguration of the Mishkan, the Holy Tabernacle, the Torah (Numbers 7) details the gifts that were brought by the leader of each tribe. If you look closely, the gifts are identical. The Midrash (Bamidbar Rabbah 13:14) explains that although each leader brought the same exact gift, their thoughts behind the gift were very different. We learn from this that the key to gift giving is the power of intention. If you want your gift to be powerful, it’s the thought you invest in it that makes the impact, even more than the gift itself.
- Give Yourself Permission to Receive– Some of us take the verse from Proverbs (15:27), “Soneh matanos yichye – One who hates gifts shall live,” too literally. While you may not be looking for a free handout, allow yourself to receive the gifts that your spouse gives you, even if you don’t like them. If you have a hard time accepting gifts, you are likely to hurt your spouse’s feelings. There is nothing more than your spouse wants than to make you happy. He/she may have even more pleasure from you accepting the gift than you have from the gift itself. Allow yourself to receive with the knowledge that you are actually giving in the process.
- Gratitude– The Talmud (Avodah Zarah 5a) bemoans an instance that occurred immediately following the giving of the Torah when the Jewish people were not appreciative. Moses rebuked the Jewish people for being ingrates because we did not ask that G-d give us the gift of maintaining the lofty spiritual level we achieved on Mount Sinai. How does not asking for a gift make one an ingrate? The commentaries explain (Tosafos s.v. kafuyei tovah) that we did not want to ask G-d for this gift because that would make us indebted to Him and would compel us to be appreciative. Sometimes we don’t want to take anything from our spouse because we don’t want to have to “owe” them, yet this is not an approach that fosters a loving relationship. In a healthy relationship, no one should have to be preoccupied with keeping score.
- Make sure he/she knows you gave the gift– I once worked with an estranged couple who had broken off contact for a few years prior to our meetings. In those years of separation, the husband managed to drop off books in the house for his wife but she didn’t know who they were from. While she appreciated the gesture she didn’t understand why he couldn’t have written a brief inscription, a note that would show that he cared and was thinking about her. It felt like someone just dropped off the newspaper at her door. The Talmud (Beitsa 16a) states that when G-d wanted to give the gift of the Sabbath to the Jewish people, he told Moses the following: “ I have a special gift in my Treasury: its name is Shabbat, and I want to give it to Israel. Go and tell them about it.” The Talmud learns from this conversation that if one wants to give a gift that someone may not know about, one must notify the recipient. Write a note, or say something special when you present the gift. It will make it all the more meaningful.
Who would think giving gifts would be so complicated?! Yet, the way a gift is given or received can actually cause more tension. By being aware of some of these guidelines, you can give or receive a gift and allow that experience to bring about more love and connection in your relationship.
If your marriage requires more immediate assistance, download your free copy of Rabbi Slatkin’s new book, The 5 Step Action Plan to a Happy & Healthy Marriage.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.