Blending Family Traditions: Navigating Gift Giving Differences in Relationships

by LukeAdmin

By Sarah Tolmie

Reader Question:
Christmas is always a stressful time with our combined family gatherings. My husband’s family does Christmas very differently to how my family celebrates. It’s the whole gift giving thing. They are so over the top. We had a much more modest upbringing and gifts never really much featured as significant for our family. We couldn’t really afford it to be. Now, I find the expectation to join his families big gifting tradition stressful. It’s hard to enjoy. What can I do?

Dearly Beloved

Giving and receiving gifts is very much a learned skill and an inherited value system that our ‘family of origin’ imprints us with. Gift giving and receiving varies hugely and the mistake we can make is to judge it on face value as being right or wrong, good or bad. It is actually so much more complicated than that.

For the record, I am with you; gift giving is a modest and sidebar event to celebrations and important family gatherings. For a long time, I didn’t get it, however, when I was training as a marriage therapist, it was hard not to come across the classic from Gary Chapman, The Five Languages of Love. Gift giving is one of them. The other ‘love languages’ being: Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Physical Touch and Acts of Service. When gift giving is seen as a way to express love and people who are genuine ‘gifters’ can get great joy and connection through it, gifts can be seen in a more positive lens.

The way love languages work is that we learn to communicate with our loved one in the language they know, prefer or desire to be loved, and if it is not the same as our primary default language, because we want to love them well, we learn to become bi–lingual. Masters of healthy relationship learn and skill up in each other’s love language.

Where we can get troubled by the whole gift giving activity, is when gifts indeed do become measures of love, or an arena for competition, influence, status or power. Where is can hurt is if in the times in between gift giving occasions the love and connection feels absent or the connection and relationship nurturing doesn’t happen.

Is there a reciprocated understanding and acceptance that your gifting habits are different? I wonder, what is your love language? Is there an understanding between you and your husband and between the two families, that you have very different gifting origins and capacities and both can be respected and integrated?

If not, is there a way to reach a mutual middle ground by understanding each other’s differences, accepting them, and finding agreement on an approach moving forwards that honours each?

This is a relationship task for all of us in relationships once we evolve out of our ‘family of origin’. When we partner up and create our own family, we become anew as a ‘family of creation’. The invitation is to ‘create’ your own family traditions based on a shared value system. One that you can negotiate together knowing what is important to you, and from that, you can create together a new legacy and evolve new traditions.

Much love
Sarah x

Sarah Tolmie – Life & Love: Sarah is a marriage therapist, life & love and relationship coach, end–of–life consultant, an independent and bespoke funeral director and holistic celebrant. She provides holistic care, mentoring, guidance, healing and transformation for individuals, couples and families at their most important times of life & love – at end–of–life, in love & relationship, and in ritual and celebration. Sarah has a relationship online course for couples called “Creating a Miracle Marriage” and a free resource and video series for families facing dying, death and grief called “Landscapes of Life & Love and Loss”. To find out more, visit and

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