The best way to approach gift buying is to take a cue from The Five Love Languages as spelled out by Dr. Gary Chapman. Determining the language your loved one "speaks" can be tricky, but once you've done that, it takes all the guesswork out of it.
To help you determine their language, think about how they've responded to deeds and gifts in the past – both negatively and positively. This can be very difficult when two people speak very different languages, but it's well worth the investment.
A vacuum cleaner is a bad gift (even if she asks for it) because it says, "I have no idea what's really important to you, but I know a clean floor is important to me!" A new tie is nice for the guy who works in suits, but if he harbors a desire to be the next Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor, adding to his wardrobe will leave him feeling dismissed. Better to hone in on your loved one’s love language and proceed accordingly:
A "Words of Affirmation" person lives for acknowledgment, appreciation, and recognition. This person might do well to receive anything that supports their endeavors — especially the endeavors no one else thinks are important.
This is why power tools are a hit with a lot of guys. All that power is, well, powerful. This person is all about the power of positive reinforcement. Giving a gift to this person that in any way conveys doubt about their skills or talents could spell big trouble.
A "Quality Time" person might like a weekend getaway with his/her loved one. Setting up the baby/house/pet-sitter in advance is a must.
Time together doesn't have to be an expensive cruise. The nicest hotel in town and a day trip to a local point of interest will more than suffice. Handmade coupons redeemed for a monthly meal out are nice, too (again, make sure the babysitter is scheduled and paid). Giving anything to this person that results in less time together is the fastest track to cold-shoulderville.
A "Receiving Gifts" person is often thought to be the most selfish of the languages, but this is just not true. The person who loves and is loved by gifts is easily — and most effectively — pleased with many things homemade. It does have to be of quality, so no papier mache! If you know how to use those power tools, get crackin'.
This person wants to know you thought of them and their interests while you were shopping or making their present. Giving a wrong or thoughtless gift to this person is like slapping them in the face.
The "Acts of Service" person is the epitome of "Do unto others as you'd have them do unto you." To this person, if you don't "do," you don't love. A handmade book of coupons may seem like a good idea, but with this person you gotta go one better. Instead of the promise to wash and detail the car, make sure the car is already washed and detailed – and then make arrangements to get it washed at least once a month for the next year… failure to follow through is a huge no-no.
Instead of giving her a vacuum cleaner, this woman might much prefer a lot of extra help around the house. Instead of power tools he prefers to buy himself, sweeping and dusting his garage (without moving or rearranging anything) might make a nice surprise.
The "Physical Touch" person is all about how it feels. Sex is the easy answer for the man in your life, but if it's a once-a-year thing, you get a "D" for effort. Conversely, the woman in your life is not going to be singing your praises when you give her a sexy nightie in response to finding her in tears on the scale.
This person might like it if you rented a movie they like and then cuddled up on the couch. Yes ladies, you can cuddle up between action scenes; and yes guys, you'll live through a romantic comedy. Try to avoid the horror genre because the images can stick with a person for hours — a definite mood killer!
This person might also like gift certificates for couple-day massages, pedicures and manicures. Playing footsie under the holiday dinner table isn't unheard of, and pre-arranging a sitter so you two can explore all your marital options goes a lot further than the latest video game.
The bottom line of gift giving is thinking about what's most important to your loved one, even — and especially — if it's not important to you. If she loved that you did all the laundry one day but was always too busy to find time for a weekend getaway, the woman in your life is an "Acts of Service" kind of gal. If he loved the "Man of the House" t-shirt and the new shelves for his garage but was lukewarm about a candlelight dinner, you're living with a "Words of Affirmation" man.
Happy gift giving!