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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Monday, Nov. 24, 2014

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In Holiday Guide

Couples: To gift or not to gift is the question. (PHOTO: shutterstock.com )

Local couples differ on gift-giving policies


Whether or not couples exchange gifts is a personal decision made between partners. Some couples go all out, and spend a lot of time and / or money investing in the ideal offering, whereas others might decide, for practical or financial reasons, that they aren't going to exchange.

Stereotypically, it's believed that people in new relationships are more likely to exchange and longer-term couples, especially those with more familial and financial responsibilities, will discontinue gift exchanges at some point during their relationship.

For Mike and Beth Rosen, this is definitely the case. Beth says when they were dating 10 years ago they went to great lengths to buy each other unique and very personal gifts. During the second year of their courtship, Mike bought her a concertina (similar to an accordion) that looked very similar to one that was owned by her grandfather.

"It was the most thoughtful gift I'd ever received. I offhandedly mentioned to him that I wished that concertina was still in my family and he found one that looked almost exactly like it," says Beth. "Our son has shown interest in this and we hope he will want to learn to play it someday."

The Rosens were married in 2005 and stopped giving gifts in 2007 after they bought a house in West Milwaukee and leased an SUV. Instead, they started buying items they needed for the house and called them "Christmas presents" even though they weren't particularly gift-ish.

"One year we gave ourselves a new driveway for Christmas," says Beth. "I don't mind, though. I really feel good about our house and how perfect it is for our family and I would rather have money go into it than into something else that's just for me."

But some couples, like Allison and Matt Phillips, are not OK with giving up gifts. The Phillips have been married almost 14 years and they still exchange, no matter how dire their financial situation is.

"Romance is really important in keeping a relationship going," says Allison. "And gift giving ensures you're romantic at least once or twice a year."

Allison says one year they had less than $100 to spend on everyone on their Christmas list. The couple bought the supplies to make homemade Irish cream for their friends and family and had about $30 leftover to spend on each other – $15 each.

"I thought about it for a long time. It became a fun challenge: what could I buy for Matt that would mean something that was $15 or less?" says Allison.

Allison says she eventually settled on a record – yes, a vinyl record – of Willie Nelson's "Stardust" that reminded them of their early days of intimacy.

"The next year we had more money so I bought him a record player from Urban Outfitters so he could actually listen to it," she says.

Lisa Blaeser is a Milwaukee-based psychotherapist who works at Cornerstone Counseling in Brookfield and often helps clients with relationship issues.

"It's really a personal choice. If purchasing gifts is important to one person in the relationship and represents an act of thoughtfulness by choosing something special and personal, then I think it's important to honor that," says Blaeser. "Simply purchasing any gift just to give a gift doesn't help the relationship, which I think happens quite often when giving gifts."

As long as the two truly agree on how they want to express themselves over the holidays, it's fine.

"For some, especially for couples with children, taking time out for a 'date night' without feeling guilty about the expense since it's the 'holiday gift' might be more enjoyable and nourishing to the relationship," she says.

"Other couples may have that 'household wish list' and use the money that would've been otherwise spent on smaller items to purchase that new TV or stereo. Shopping for an item like this together and enjoying the purchase can help the relationship while relishing the joy of the season."

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