A Therapist’s Guide to Gift Giving


It took me way too long to get the message that my husband does not like my gifts nearly as much as I do. In the early years, I would buy him clothes. I would carefully wrap them, hand them over with glee, and then my grin would fade as he opened it and casually set it to the side, not touching the box of fashionable clothing until he had to put it away. Months later, I would go through his drawer and find the sweater that I thought would look so good on him, folded neatly with the tag still attached – well after the return window was long gone. I was frustrated and my feelings were hurt. Later when I asked him about all the clothes I had so carefully selected, he said he just didn’t like them as much as I did and didn’t want to bother letting me down. While it took a few years, I eventually listened to what he really wanted – experiences and not objects – even though it differed from what I thought would make a great gift.

When it comes to gift-giving, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, who is the recipient? How well do you know them? Are you giving them a gift merely out of obligation or do you really want to give them something that would make them feel special and loved? Do you know their love language? 

If your intention is to give someone a gift that says, “I really know you, and I want you to know I love you,” then understanding love languages is a crucial part of the gift-giving process. The Five Love Languages, created by Gary Chapman are:

  • Words of Affirmation: you express love through words, such as compliments or saying, “I love you.” 
  • Physical Touch: you express love through physical affection, such as holding hands, hugging, snuggling; it is not necessarily sexual contact.
  • Quality Time: you express love through undivided attention and spending time with the one you love, such as turning off your phone and grabbing a cup of coffee and hanging out on the patio together.
  • Acts of Service: you express love through actions and your motto is, “Actions speak louder than words.” This could be cooking their favorite meal, fixing a button that popped off your partner’s shirt, or gathering the laundry and taking it to the cleaners without asking or feeling obligated. 
  • Gifts, Giving and Receiving: you express love by giving a thoughtful and meaningful object that makes your partner feel special and unique.

You can take this quick quiz to see which language is your primary language. Your primary language is the way you give and receive love, but the trick is, it may not be your partner’s or family members’ primary love language. When your love language differs, conflict or misunderstanding can occur leaving you feeling disconnected. The goal isn’t to change your love language, but to cultivate an understanding of each other to connect better.

Here are some gift ideas categorized by love language:

Words of Affirmation – A handwritten note expressing a specific way you appreciate them.

Physical Touch – A massage, a neck or foot massage, or the book Come As You Are by Dr. Emily Nagoski.

Quality Time – Staycation experience, like a 2-day couples workshop, plan a picnic at a nearby park with hiking, or the book Eight Dates by Dr. John Gottman, the Gottman Card Deck app (free app that has a variety of questions you and your partner can answer to help strengthen your relationship).

Acts of Service – Wash their car, fill up the gas tank, or stock the refrigerator with their favorite snacks or drinks.

Receiving Gifts – A gift card to their favorite restaurant, jersey of their favorite sports team, or an item like a candle, or food from one of your favorite trips together that reminds them of that experience.

Bonus gift ideas for:

How can we speak the same love language?

Need a little help learning how to speak one another’s love language? My practice offers a free 50-minute workshop on the 5 love languages. Take a course and learn how each love language helps strengthen your relationship. I’m a therapist in AZ and my practice specializes in relationship health—you can find me here


  1. I love this! Thank you for reminding us to think of their love language and to really speak into that with our gifts for them!


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