Open Gently

Musings on the introspective life.

Give Them What They Want--It's Easy to Please

Lovers like surprises, but the best surprise may be knowing that you listened.

A simple rule for gift-giving: give them what they want!

That may sound obvious but even when our lovers and friends tell us exactly what to do, we often ignore them.

Why? Because our vision is clouded by our own emotions and desires.

For example, research shows that we think that spending more money or time or effort on a gift will make it special. Giving "big" feels good. You invested more and get a buzz from your own generosity. Buying those extra socks and underwear he keeps forgetting to pick up seems dull by comparison. But do it, and you may be surprised at his gratitude

Our loved ones often want something inexpensive and easy that we unconsciously dismiss. 

Instead of satisfying their actual desires, we frequently lavish on others what we'd most like ourselves. I like to say to my man, "How did you get so handsome?" and tell friends that he got the top rating in his last work review and a bigger bonus. (My mother liked to gush over me, and I find over-the-top praise normal and reassuring.)

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But my partner, who is shy, finds some of this embarrassing, especially on the street or in a restaurant when I'm feeling enthusiastic. I need to save my puppyish moments for home.   

At the same time, he knows that I crave praise from him, which he doesn't naturally produce, since it would make him uncomfortable to receive. So my praise is always a kind of hint--even if I don't think I mean it that way.  

We also give what comes most easily to us, playing on our strengths. Drawing on your strengths is a good strategy in life. It makes you feel good, and you'll be doing things well. Still, it's even better to....give people what they want.

You may be overlooking the gifts and gestures a partner would most appreciate because they'd require a bit of a stretch. Let's say you have excellent taste. You'd enjoy picking a beautiful tie for your man. You also know he's really into female body hair. Why not skip shaving your legs for a week in winter and wear pants to work?

When he sees a stray hair or two, he may be deeply touched. People do enjoy the unexpected, which is why we focus on effort and expense--a gift out of the norm. But the best surprises are those that target desires that have gone unfufilled.     

In our dream worlds, the way we naturally give would meet our partners' needs and desires and vice versa. My public gushiness would make him feel good, I would prefer fuzzy legs and get a kick out of buying his underwear and socks.

It's called compatibility. However, the funny thing about love is that eventually, it requires changes in attitude and shifts in behavior. People stay compatible if they both do what it takes--and give each other what they want.

Not all the time. And not if the required change will make you miserable. However, holidays like Valentine's Day are times when we can practice the kind of giving that would make us happier every day.

The more your acts of kindness reflect your partner’s wants, the more grateful he'll be, says Amie M. Gordon, a doctoral candidate in Social-Personality Psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, and my sister blogger here at Psychology Today ("Between You and Me".)

After all, wouldn't you be grateful if your honey just came to bed fifteen minutes earlier or gave you that foot massage you've stopped asking for?  

For editing and writing help, contact me at expertediting.org.

Temma Ehrenfeld is a New York-based science writer, and former assistant editor at Newsweek.

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