My Presence vs Presents

“Stop working on all the things you want and start focusing on what you need to do.”

These are the powerful words shared with me by a good friend during a very honest discussion about business strategy. For better or worse, I immediately saw his words as a powerful lesson not just in business, but in relationships.

So often we spend time, energy and even money on the things that we have convinced ourselves we so desperately want. Very often these big wants overwhelm our need, the more basic but cornerstone elements to our lives and relationships.

Let me explain what I mean through an example that many of us can connect to. A few weeks, or maybe a few days before an anniversary many spouses go into panic mode. Yes, you know what I mean, the “what am I going to get for her/him for our anniversary” mode. All of a sudden, we actually start listening to adverts on the radio and TV about romantic spa packages, taking note of Sale signs outside jewelry or electronic store. As the time gets even closer, people start Googling “10th anniversary presents” or “Best present to make my spouse happy,” some even clicking on those usually annoying pop up adverts online all in the name of frantically searching for the present we are going to buy our loved one.

I have 2 questions to ask here. The first, why is it so difficult to find the correct present for our partner? Let’s be real here, these are the people we spend our life with, wake up with, go to sleep with. These are the people who are on speed dial on our cellphones and the people we should be most communicating with every day of our lives. But, when it comes to buying them a present, we need to revert to Google to tell us what will make them happy?? When it is said like that, does it not sound ludicrous?

So, you may be waiting with bated breath for me to enlighten you as to how to find the perfect present for your spouse, but I can’t. What I can share is that many of us hear, but do not listen! The truth is that even in a healthy relationship many people fall into the trap of hearing, but not listening. We hear our spouse’s report of their day at the office, but do we listen to the stress in their voice? We inquire as to our child’s school results, but fail to notice they never bring a friend home to play. You would be surprised, if we actually listened to what each of us are saying, finding an anniversary present would be the easiest thing in the world.

The second question is, have you ever stopped to think why it is so important to us to buy the correct gift for our spouse? Why do we watch with such bated breath to see what their reaction will be as they open our present? Yes, I am going to say something that may offend you, but I beg you to listen to it. It is not about your spouse, the measures we go to, to purchase the gift that makes their eyes sparkle with deep appreciation is not about them, it is about us! We want to feel appreciated, we want to know that we make our partner happy. We want them to tell their friends that they have the most amazing partner. We even want their friends to reply, wow, my partner would never know what to buy me!!

How do I know this? What is my proof?

How many times have we been in that situation that our partner wears the jewelry we bought them to a dinner party, or they shows off the new electrical gadget we got them to their friends, but fail to mention who gave them the present, how does that make us feel? How many of us cannot resist piping up “I got it for her for our anniversary” or “who would think I would know what electrical gadget he wanted”? If it was about their happiness and not our need to be noticed, we would quietly sit back and be content with their happiness.

Now I am not saying that there is something wrong with being proud of making your spouse happy, it is something to be very proud of, and I do not mean to knock people who google anniversary presents, but what I am suggesting is that we ask, what is the want and what is the need? Our want so often is to be labeled as a great partner, to be noticed for our outstanding service to our partner. On the other hand the need, what is most important, is that we give them much more than the perfect anniversary present. We NEED to offer them a listening ear and heart, and we make an effort to understand that which is not always said, and that we make sure to credit them and not just our bank card.


About the Author
Natan Alexander has been in education and community leadership for 15 years. He received Smicha (Rabbinical Ordination) from Rabbi Shlomo Riskin and Rav Zalman Nechemia Goldberg. He is the founder and CEO of Better2gether, a website that helps religious and conservative couples improve their physical and emotional relationship in a modest way.