How Bad Gifts Affect Relationships

Subtitle: Daedalian, Thy Name is Woman.

How Bad Gifts Affect Relationships, taken from Marina’s Facebook feed:

Psychological research on how gift-giving affects relationships hints at this no-win situation. Studies suggest that good gifts only affirm similarity between couples, and so do little for the relationship. Poor gifts, though, may lead people to question their similarity with each other, thereby damaging the relationship. Studies tend to focus on how gifts affect perceived similarity because finding a ‘kindred spirit’ is thought central to successful relationships and reliably predicts relationship satisfaction (Murray et al., 2002).

It’s so true! Unfortunately it’s also a catch-22 for men, because if men mechanically give women what we ask for then we also assume the men just don’t get us.

The article goes on to explain that the marginal advantage to giving a good gift is low (because smart women date men who spoil us, so the good gift just reaffirms what a smart girl already knows, i.e., that he loves me?), while the bad gift is devastating to intimacy, possibly because:

Dunn and colleagues explain that the more threat women felt to their relationship (i.e. from the poor gift), the more they tried to protect against this threat. With a new acquaintance in the first experiment there wasn’t much relationship to protect, so the bad gift had no effect compared to the good gift. But when there was a substantial existing relationship to protect, women were motivated to guard against this potential threat. Men, in contrast, made no such effort, saying they didn’t like their partner’s choice and, by extension, their partner.

The real lesson is that women are more motivated than men to marshal psychological defence mechanisms to protect against the damaging effects of poor gifts. Over the long-term the story is likely to be the same for both sexes: bad gifts damage relationships by chipping away at their heart; the feeling that in this big, bad world you’ve found someone who really understands you, and knows what you like.

I’ve been lucky enough to have dodged the bad-gift-bullet, but I can absolutely attest to the fact that women tend to work harder when they sense a threat to the relationship, while men start to feel hopeless and stop paying attention to what their partners are saying. In the long run, of course, we all come to center, but reassurances as to the “long run” are cold comfort to both partners living in today.

Solution? A return to old-fashioned values? Is it always as simple as communication?


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