The Perfect Gift

But that old saying about it's the thought that counts is not really a superficial sentiment. Gifts need to be a genuine expression of love and well thought out. They need to come from the heart, not out of a sense of obligation or duty.
12/18/2013 03:44pm ET | Updated February 17, 2014
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By Chrisanna Northrup and Dr. Pepper Schwartz

If you are stumbling around in stores or searching online for hours for the "perfect gift" for somebody special, you are not alone. Giving your partner a gift can be as simple as writing or quoting a poem, sending a love note or flowers or offering a relaxing massage. However, data from The Normal Bar (our book based on the most extensive study every done on relationships) shows us that giving nothing is definitely toxic and, over time, will actually harm your relationship.

Furthermore, we found a strong connection between gift-giving and sexual satisfaction. Of those who said they never receive romantic gifts of any kind, 64 percent of women and 88 percent of men were also dissatisfied with their sex lives. Perhaps the lack of gifts meant a lack of general romanticism in the relationship or just that extra caring touch that makes your partner want to embrace you, but the correlation between gift giving and eroticism in the relationship is definitely something to keep in mind as you are finishing up your holiday shopping.

In fact, if you don't give romantic gifts, it's worth considering why you don't. Perhaps, your own family never gave gifts when you were growing up and you never learned the habit. If so, the habit may seem forced and false. Or maybe you've offered gifts in the past but your picky partner never seem to appreciate your choices and you gave up trying. Perhaps you loved giving gifts but your partner insisted it was a waste of money, and now you agree. Or maybe your partner tells you your relationship is so solid that you don't need to bother with gifts. These are all compelling justifications, but they can mislead you into unintentionally undermining your relationship. Relationships need reciprocal gift giving!

Follow your instincts: partners like to know they are loved and that you are thinking of them. Even when your partner says, "It's okay, you don't need to get me a present," they may not entirely mean what they say. They might want something more in line with their taste, or they may have some other reservation about gift giving but that doesn't mean that all gift giving should stop in its tracks. Figure out what the problem is, and then give gifts that matter; remember a humble flower can touch your partner's heart, it doesn't have to set back the family budget. It really is the thought -- that counts.

But that old saying about it's the thought that counts is not really a superficial sentiment. Gifts need to be a genuine expression of love and well thought out. They need to come from the heart, not out of a sense of obligation or duty. They also cannot be generic, your partner needs to know why you gave him or her that specific gift. And they shouldn't just be the end result of a lot of hints. No one wants to have to tell the other person to give, so if you feel the love, by all means show the love.

We asked thousands of people in the Normal Bar study about gift giving and as much as we would like to share them all with you, we picked out a couple of our favorites that we hope will spark some creativity when presenting your "perfect gift" to your partner over the holiday season:

"For Christmas my partner made a scavenger hunt around his apartment with notecards of all his favorite memories of our relationship, that led to my Christmas gift."

"My husband is a practical guy, so it's tough to give him a gift that is romantic, so I buy him whatever practical gift that I know he really wants and always attach a bonus gift. The bonus gift ranges anywhere from a poem that I wrote about him, a one hour candlelight massage, to a ipod shuffle with all his favorite songs. I have so much fun coming up with a creative bonus gift every year and he appreciates the love and thought put into it."

"My wife borrows my things... all the time! Sometimes that are not put back where I left them and it drives me crazy. So, I bought her an exact duplicate of everything she borrows from me. The package included, tweezers, scissors, sweatshirt, noise canceling head phones for the airplane, iphone charger, razor, comb, umbrella, and my favorite hat. The present had a nice card and mentioned a small getaway I had planned- she said it was the best present ever!"