Help! My Husband Is a Terrible Gift Giver

I’m not saying my husband is an atrocious gift giver. I don’t have to. He just is. He got a free pass when we had only been dating a few months, and for my birthday, showered me with a pair of binoculars in case we decided to take up bird watching together (we never did), a harmonica because he knew I was into the Grateful Dead for a few years in high school and college (even though I’d long since moved on), and a fish tank because I pretended a little too well, apparently, to enjoy his fish tank.

When the gifts didn’t improve, I tried to take the unhappy mystery out of it by directing him to exactly what I wanted, and yet I still didn’t fare much better. For my inaugural Mother’s Day, I sent him a link six weeks in advance to a keychain I had been coveting with our daughter’s first initial. When I opened it that morning, it was not only a different keychain, but it had my first initial. He told me when he ordered it—earlier that week—the store was out of the one I wanted. A few weeks later I asked him if the correct one had arrived, and he let me know he hadn’t swapped it yet because he was still inside the 30-day return window.

That’s when I just gave up entirely. Between his thoughtfulness and his thoughtlessness, I couldn’t win. Yes, yes, yes, I know: I’m an ungrateful, horrible person who should consider herself lucky to have a husband who at least tries (sometimes, anyway). But sometimes the ceremony can start to mean a lot less than the money being spent, which is often a lot. Plus, after you’ve been with someone for over a decade, it’s OK to just stop. Just. Stop.

With the holidays approaching, I’d rather forgo gifts for us entirely and instead focus on our kids. The problem is my husband. He can’t stand not getting me something, and he can’t stand not receiving anything. It’s not that I want to get all Grinch-y on him, but I just can’t understand why we can’t take the adults out of the equation. We celebrate our birthdays and anniversaries with gifts. When it comes to Hanukkah and Christmas, why not just make it all about the kids? He’s not religious. I’m a bit more religious, but enough to know that Hanukkah is for the kids and Christmas is for, well, families who actually celebrate it, not families like us who think they’re getting all Yuletide-y by slapping together a gingerbread house, buying red Hershey’s Kisses, and calling it a day.

We didn’t give our kids too many gifts when they were young enough not to know. But now they know, and it adds up. You know what else adds up? The little nothing gifts that my husband continues to buy every year when I tell him to get me nothing. The slippers, picture frames, sunglasses, and other assorted tchotchkes that I politely wait to return until he goes back to work a few days after Christmas. And then I always want him to know that for all he spent on getting me these little gifts, he could have got me something I liked. But I’d rather we just bought our kids a couple more things. I don’t want to hurt his feelings, so I say nothing.

I always end up getting him good stuff, but strategically not great stuff—good enough to make him feel thought of but not great enough to make him feel as if I violated the spirit of no-gift giving. He loves the artisanal beer of the month club and a few thoughtfully chosen books that he forgot he mentioned to me months earlier. You know, the kind of stuff that renders me an excellent gift giver and reminds him, again, of how not good he is at it.

This year I have a different strategy, however. No gifts for us unless it’s something from or about the kids—like their framed artwork or some other kind of child-made keepsake, or a family outing everyone can enjoy together. Give me something with tiny handprints in bright colors or anything with ice cream and hot fudge and color me a happy woman at the holidays. But if all else fails, credit works, too.