The holiday gift-giving season is upon us, and it can be an emotional minefield for people in new relationships. It was simpler when we were younger: we just worried about what we would get and what we were going to give. When you find your partner in midlife, however, you each bring several decades of expectations into the mix. There are extended families to consider, different values and approaches, and the potential for conflict and misunderstanding. Happy holidays.
This season can be less fraught with peril if you keep one thing in mind: different doesn't mean wrong. Maybe you hate the commercialization of Christmas and prefer to forego presents altogether. However, your new partner thrives on the thrill of finding just the right gift for dozens of family members and friends, decorates the house like a department store, and wears a Santa hat from Thanksgiving to New Year's. Or maybe you have different religious traditions, and the other person's celebrations seem very foreign to you. The differences could be something as simple as conflict over when to open presents - Christmas Eve or the next morning? Regardless, if you are absolutely sure that your way is the only way to celebrate the holidays, you are likely to encounter friction as you and your partner try to enjoy the season together.
Do you share your finances? If so, you will have to compromise on a budget and the lavishness of the gifts. One of you may be accustomed to spending several hundred dollars on gifts for the grandkids, while the other considers that a foolish waste and prefers to give small presents or to participate in a family gift exchange. The key here is mutual respect and discretion. If you don't combine your finances, and your partner hasn't solicited your advice, you would be wise to just keep your mouth shut. You may think that giving a 16-year-old a car for Hanukkah is the most ridiculous thing you have ever heard, but it is not your call.
Don't go overboard yourself by showering your sweetheart's family with overly expensive presents. It may make you look like you are trying to buy their favor. Talk together about what would be appropriate. Don't show up empty-handed to holiday gatherings, either. You can always bring homemade treats or a flowering plant to show your appreciation. Again, communication will help you to do the right thing. You don't want to bring a bottle of wine to the home of a relative who is opposed to the use of alcohol, for example.
When it comes to a gift for your sweetheart, follow your heart and your head. Consider how long you have been together, what you can afford, and what will be most appreciated and enjoyed. Gift-giving is a skill closely tied to your ability to listen to others' likes and dislikes. If your partner tries hard but gets you the ugliest present ever, remember it really is the thought that counts. Focus on building your relationship, improve your hinting skills, and hope that the Ugly Present becomes a humorous family legend in years to come.
Northwest authors Jennifer Y. Levy-Peck, PhD, a psychologist, and her husband Charles Peck are write a weekly column on midlife relationships. They are working on a new book, "Magic at Midlife: Your Relationship Roadmap for Romance After 40."
Previous Magic at Midlife Columns:
Telling Your Love Story
Older Hearts Break, Too
Reimagining Your Life Together
Memory Loss and the Midlife Couple
When One of You Retires
Money - One Pot or Separate Accounts?
Falling in Love Later in Life
To Marry or Not?
Conversations About Death for Midlife Couples
The Couple That Laughs Together, Stays Together
Vacation Time! Leave Your Baggage at Home
Your Place or Mine? Moving In Together
How to Help Your Partner Calm Down
Creating Shared Goals
Having the “Senior Safer Sex” Conversation