I've always known my wife enjoys receiving presents. She said as much while we were dating. But then, several years ago, I read The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. The book theorized that we usually do for others what we want them to do for us. That's when I knew I was in trouble.
My wife regularly gives me presents. Just small, thoughtful stuff most of the time—but lots of it. If she runs an errand, she comes back with a cup of coffee for me. If she's at the grocery store, she picks out something she knows I'll like. If she goes on a trip to see her family, she sends me postcards from every gas station along the route.
Although I thought it was nice of her to think of me while she was out, for some reason I never felt the need to reciprocate. While I enjoyed receiving the gifts, they didn't fill any deep need I had. I'm embarrassed to say they were often set aside and forgotten soon after I received them.
But as I read the book, I understood suddenly why she did it. In one of those moments of crystal-clear realization, it hit me that each present was an effort to train her hopelessly oblivious husband. Unfortunately, none of her attempts ever made it through my thick head.
Learning to give
Resolved to do better, I tried to develop the gift-giving skill. Searching for support, I confessed my struggles to other men, but most of them had similar issues. We were too absorbed in "stuff"—we weren't sure what that stuff was, but we knew it was really important—to remember to give presents to our wives.
Eventually, I found one husband who had a brilliant idea. He bought dozens of greeting cards and stored them in a desk drawer at work. Whenever he realized he'd forgotten an important occasion, he filled out a card on his lunch break. Crisis averted!
His innovation resonated with my efficiency-trained mind. Why not plan the presents at the beginning of the year? It made a lot more sense than trusting my stuff-absorbed brain to be spontaneous.
So I bought two calendars, one for me and one for my wife, and picked a day each month to be a "Moni-Day" (my wife's name is Monica). I wrote the name of a present in that day's square on each calendar. Then, on Monica's calendar, I covered the square by taping down a small piece of paper labeled "Moni-Day." (Caution: don't forget to write down the gifts in your own calendar. You'll need not only the reminder, but sometimes the advance preparation.)
Later editions of the calendar incorporated a weekly Moni-Day, which goes to prove an important principle—today's extra effort is tomorrow's expectation. In other words, start small, and work your way up.
The presents were themed and would repeat every few months. Some ideas I had while making the calendar, and some allowed my wife to choose how she wanted the gift to be expressed. For example, a "Secret Envelope" might contain a card, some stationary, or some other small present, while a "Mr. Fix-It" square allowed Monica to select an odd job around the house she wanted done.
Deposits of love
I don't always get the husband-thing right, but as a friend of mine says, "Even a broken clock is right twice a day." Monica was thrilled with the calendar the first time she opened it. I probably could have left the other gifts at the department store that Christmas.
Over the years, the "Moni-Day" calendars have been a blessing to our marriage. Each week, I satisfy my wife's love of presents without having to be a gift-giving genius. If I'm careful at the beginning of the year, I can make sure "Moni-Days" occur next to or on special occasions—an added insurance against forgetfulness. Sometimes I even get lucky and have a "Moni-Day" scheduled for a day when I've really messed up. (Thankfully, it's difficult to stay angry with someone who gives you a present.)
While the presents are never big, they are a regular reminder of how much I love Monica. She looks forward to peeling back each square, never quite knowing what type of gift she'll receive. In fact, I think I've contributed to some sort of addiction. I've been told I'm not allowed to take a year off from the calendars.
Do it yourself
if you'd like to create your own version of the "Moni-Day" calendar, try some of the themes listed below. They can work easily for either spouse.
Breakfast in bed. Your mate gets to sleep in on a Saturday while you (and sometimes the kids) make breakfast. (List these on Fridays, so she'll know she can sleep in the next day.) Be sure to clean up afterward! There's nothing that takes the joy out of this gift like a sink full of dirty dishes.
Cracker Barrel Saturday. The entire family heads out for breakfast. (Choose your spouse's favorite restaurant.)
Dish duty. Pick up all dish-cleaning responsibilities for the week—or whatever daily "chore" your spouse usually handles.
Game night. Set aside a night to play games with each other after putting the kids to bed early.
Give it up! Your spouse gets to choose one job he or she doesn't enjoy, and you take it over for the week.
Grab bag. Your mate draws for the present. Place small gifts inside a bag and let your spouse pick one. Or draw slips of paper with the names of different gifts instead.
Laundry duty. Grab the detergent and whittle down "Laundry Mountain."
Mr. Fix-It. Your mate can assign any odd job around the house or elsewhere.
Night away. Get a hotel room for your spouse while you stay home with the kids. (If you travel frequently, consider using hotel points.) I have to say, this is my wife's favorite gift.
Quality time. Clear your evening schedule of responsibilities, and do whatever your spouse wants to do. For me, this usually means watching an endless series of home decorating shows. But I have to admit, I'm starting to like them.
Secret envelope. A sealed envelope that includes a gift card or other small present. I typically leave them in a conspicuous place around the house before I set off for work.
Time out. Let your mate take a day—or a few hours if that's all you can spare—all to herself, or to visit with friends, while you spend time with the kids. Saturdays or Sundays after church work best for us and give Monica the most time.
Take twenty. Add an extra $20 to your mate's spending money for the pay period. I typically schedule these on a payday or just a day or two before. This isn't an extra $20 to get haircuts for the kids or a tune-up for the car. It must be used for something he or she wants.
Michael Kientz, a writer and leadership consultant, lives in Colorado and has been married 14 years.
Copyright © 2007 by the author or Christianity Today/Marriage Partnership magazine. Click here for reprint information on Marriage Partnership.