01.12.2012 Relationships

Two-Way Pleasure

Love yourself enough to ask for the gift that gives you pleasure at Christmas, advises Dr Charmaine Saunders.

Christmas is an annual opportunity to put aside differences, be nice to everyone, wallow in sentiment, eat as much as you like and, of course, give and receive presents. The exchange of gifts is a large part of the festive season because the offering and accepting of gifts is a gesture of love.

So why are so many of us ashamed to ask for what we want? Surely those close to us would rather be steered towards the right present and, in turn, if we know they're going to spend money on us, helping them make the right choice is thoughtful rather than selfish.

Tips for getting what you'd really like:

Match your request to the giver. For instance, don't ask a pensioner for a $50 present as it will only cause embarrassment.If you're very fussy, ask for a voucher at your favorite book, CD, clothing or department store.Be very specific. Don't just say "a book", for example, as you might get one that you've read or is not to your taste. Instead, say,"I'd love the new Danielle Steele; I haven't read it yet."Best not to ask for clothes unless the person knows your size and style extremely well. It's a risky area.If the person is close to you like your Mum or hubby and you know they're going to spend a lot of money on the gift, suggest going along to buy it. You can make an outing out of it and get something you really want.Don't pretend to like what you got if you didn't unless it's a casual acquaintance who's unlikely to buy for you again. If it's a person who's going to buy you a gift every Christmas and you don't tell then you hate garden gnomes, you're likely to get one every year!If you know the giver makes something like homemade jam or grows their own vegies, ask for a present from their own wares. You'll make a friend for life.

Why does it hurt us to get a gift we don't like or want? If it's someone close to us, we figure they should know better than to buy us a gift in our least favourite colour or the wrong size or unrelated to our interests. It seems like they don't care or haven't truly listened to our requests.

Between husbands and wives, this can be a very contentious area. Some men lack imagination and will buy the same flowers, perfume or chocolates year after year. In desperation, they will sometimes buy "practical" gifts like a kitchen appliance which they think is a thoughtful present - it doesn't occur to them they're doing anything wrong. Conversely, men get sick of socks, ties and aftershave! When we get the wrong gift, we feel that we don't matter, that buying the gift was just a chore to the person who gave it to us. A gift is an expression of love and appreciation so an ill-considered choice can easily smack of thoughtlessness or uncaring.

Don't be afraid to speak up about your wishes and dream gifts but make sure you allow plenty of time before Christmas. There's nothing wrong with saying mid-year what you would like and don't worry about being polite if, in the end, you dislike the result. Say nicely but firmly, "Sorry, darling, this is really not something I would wear. Would you mind if I exchanged it?" In the end, the important thing is that the gift gives pleasure, not just in the moment of opening but throughout the whole year and beyond.

So, how do we ask pleasantly and yet make sure our message is clear? Being forceful in a pleasant way is a skill of assertiveness, a very important but difficult one in all relationships. Effective communication is vital to healthy interaction between partners, relatives and friends. If you're afraid to ask for your Christmas gift of choice, doesn't that say something about your relationship? Put aside fear and speak up.

Here are some practical tips:

Broach the subject by asking the other person what they would like for Christmas. If they hedge, tell them you'd really prefer to know so you can buy the right thing. If you can pin them down, you have set the scene for them to ask you to reciprocate or if they don't, moving on to tell your choices anyway.Pick your moment, not in a manipulative way but simply choosing a time and place which is conducive to non-combative discussion,eg when you're relaxing after a meal. When people are tired or stressed, they're likely to tune out to what you are saying or genuinely forget later.If subtlety hasn't worked in the past, be more blunt but without giving offence. Say, "Look, the last three years, you've bought me lingerie and I feel I have enough in that department now. Could I please tell you what I would like this year?" Make sure they're listening before you continue, establish eye contact then say directly what you would like instead.

Ultimately, of course, the best gift is love which should not be confined only to Christmas but, as the theme of Christmas is specifically love, it's the perfect season to exchange gifts that are truly generous and meaningful. Getting the wrong gift can result in feelings of rejection, of being unloved and unheard. We shouldn't expect our partners or friends to be mind readers and then get disappointed if they didn't read us correctly! Isn't it fairer to be straight and clear?

There is nothing sadder than a disappointed child on Christmas morning. We can teach children to also speak up about what they need or want as gifts, not in a greedy way but in the spirit of healthy self esteem and clear communication. On the whole, children are better than adults at expressing their needs and wants but there might be a secret dream in a child's heart that parents are not aware of and yet may be able to fulfill, for example an outing instead of a gift or a book/game on a specific topic. Teaching a child to give and receive is a valuable lesson for life. Most parents love getting gifts children have made themselves so money doesn't have to be an issue. Parent and child can both revel in the pleasure of exchanging presents at Christmas.

The best gift givers are those who use a creative approach to the task and are prepared to put time and effort into the selection. Allow those who love you to have the pleasure of seeing your joy at the gifts they've chosen for you. A gift is a two-way transaction, one designed to give delight to both giver and receiver so put as much thought into what you would like to get as much as what you plan to give, and you won't go wrong. Then love yourself enough to ask boldly for what you want at Christmas... and always.

Dr Charmaine Saunders

Dr Charmaine Saunders was a much loved relationships counsellor and speaker who wrote for NOVA for many years. She died in July 2013.