Have you ever been in a situation where you had the opportunity to do something nice for your partner but ended up not doing it because you know they would never do it for you, appreciate it, or even notice it?
I confess that I used to do this all the time. I would do the dishes and expect him to vacuum. I would give him an expensive watch for his birthday, expecting some jewelry for mine. Even something as simple as packing his bag for business travels–expecting at least a thank you.
I could be very happy about something that I would give or do for the other person. It really felt good when I bought it, or when I was doing it. While doing the dishes and cleaning up, I would be very happy. It would feel good to make his life a little bit easier. It would be his turn, but I knew he was having a bad day at work, so I decided to do them for him.
When he would come home, I would sit there waiting with all my expectations for him to be so grateful to me that I did the dishes for him and he would not even see it! Of course, that made me very angry. I would think, well, don’t ever expect anything from me again, if you don’ even thank me for it. And, of course, that was part of the problem. If he had been expecting it, it would not have been a true gift anymore. It would just be complying with his wishes.
Just to avoid any misunderstanding, there is absolutely nothing wrong with complying with the wishes of your partner. I do it when I put away my clothes instead of letting them lie on the floor. However, this is not a gift.
When you give only because you expect something in return, you are not really giving. You are paying.
My well-intended gift became an issue for resentment. It became an excuse that I could use for myself to justify not giving any future gifts.
At some point my partner and I were having a fight about something he didn’t want to do for me, and I brought up the dishwashing example. I did that for him, why could he not do this for me? Why should I do anything for him ever again if he would not do the same for me? I told him (rather… screamed at him) that from now on he didn’t have to expect anything from me again.
His answer was: “But I never asked you to do this. I never expected you to wash the dishes!”
For some reason that would strike me like a lightning bolt. He didn’t ask me to do this, it was my gift. I had destroyed that gift and turned it into something ugly, something to fight about.
Then I thought about why I give gifts and the expectations that I attached to them. I realized that I was using my gifts and nice gestures as currency. I was doing things, initially because I just wanted to do them, but at the same time I had expectations about what I wanted in return. If those expectations were not met, I would start to regret that gift. Once I saw how it worked, I resolved to release the expectations that I had attached to my gifts. I would do them to be nice, to help him, and because I wanted to. If he would do something with it or not, thank me or not, that would no longer affect me.
Only a gift given without expecting something in return is a true gift.
This gave me such freedom. It felt good to just give and let go. It all came back to the basics of doing something nice because you love that person and giving something because you want them to have it. It gave me back the joy in giving.
If you feel that your partner does not appreciate you enough or does not give you enough presents and gifts, then talk about it. But make it about that, not about how much you give without getting in return. It is not a competition. While some acknowledgement or thank you for your gift is good manners, it is not something that you are entitled to. Give because you want to give, not because you want to get.
Think about how nice it would be if both of you would be in the habit of giving real gifts. Would it not be nice when you could just receive a gift, a compliment knowing that it is just that? A true gift with no expectations in return?