​We are all different, so generalisations aren't going to fit everyone. I know that, and I hope that you know that too. So if this article strikes a chord, that's brilliant. If not, that's fine with me.

Let's jump in with a generalisation. Most men go for functional presents. Ask them for a list of what they want for their birthday and they'll ask for tools, equipment, gadgets; they might even add in some music and books. Mostly it's things that they would buy for themselves if they had the money. Flowers are the antithesis of this. Men, as a rule, don't like being given flowers: what can you use a bunch of flowers for? Of course not all men are like that but it's true enough of most men that we can generalise.

Men, more often, think like this. Let's say my electric drill was starting to show signs of age. My wife overhears me complaining that the drill bit keeps slipping because the chuck is worn. Secretly she researches drills and presents me with a brand new, extra-powerful one with all the features that I need and many more, some of which I can't even work out what they're for. I'm in heaven and I'm eternally grateful to her. Those are generally the sorts of things that men like for presents.

Women are normally different. You know that wedding anniversaries have names? Like the 25th is silver, 50th is gold and so on. Well, in the UK, the 6th is iron. Coming up to our 6th anniversary my wife was complaining about our iron and so I bought her a new one. It had all sorts of settings for different fabrics and amounts of steam. The flat bit at the bottom had some sort of space-age coating and the water tank was supposed to be self cleaning. It was a marvel of technology. Unfortunately my wife wasn't impressed. I'd done for her what I'd hope she'd do for me and it didn't do the business. Good job I'd also arranged to take her out for a meal whilst a friend babysat our young son!

Similarly she looks at the list of things that I want for Christmas and complains, “there's nothing exciting on there”. Things is, I don't want exciting presents. I want things that I can use. But at least I've made a list.  Her list is empty.

So what's going on with her?

As a generalisation (and if it doesn't fit your wife or partner, that's fine) women tend to want presents that are significant in some way. They represent something, especially if it's something shared. Preferably they should show thought, care and knowledge of them, and picking something off a list doesn't tick those boxes. Buying something that she's written on a list doesn't, to her, show much thought, care and knowledge of her. She might as well have bought it herself.

Even if she hasn't produced a list there are still things that she would like. But she wants you to know, rather than to tell you. So you need to do some detective work.

Try going out with her when she's browsing through the shops. I know that's hell on earth for some of us men, but when you love someone you do extreme things for them. Somewhere a bit quirky is often much better for this: markets, craft villages and things like that can be really good. I act disinterested but keep an eye out, and particularly an ear. I listen out for the “ooh” and “aah” sounds when she's found something that she's connected with. “I used to have one like this when I was a girl!  I really loved it!” If you hear something like that, you've hit gold.

Then work out how to get it. My wife's observational skills aren't brilliant so sometimes, while she's wandered off somewhere else, I can sneak back to the stall and buy it. I've also taken photos of a market stall's sign, which had their website address, and I've gone online and bought things later. I saw a rag doll that she loved on one stall and managed to find something very similar in another shop. I've bought books through auction sites on the Internet. I've gone back to the shop on another day and bought the item.

The bit about acting disinterested is key. If you're there, looking over her shoulder, picking up the item, inspecting it and writing things in a notepad then you've given yourself away. When you give it to her, you've missed the “wow!  He really knows me!” effect.

You also need to be alert to whether she's interested in the specific item or the type. My wife liked a particular Cinderella book. It was the version she used to have when she was a little girl. I managed to track one down on the Internet. Buying her just any old Cinderella book wouldn't have worked. But the rag doll was generic: she just loved rag dolls, so it didn't matter which one I bought.

Creating something yourself can also be very powerful. A card with a well thought out list of things you love about her can be a better present than an expensive diamond ring. But please, do avoid listing obvious physical characteristics! Rather than mentioning her legs or bust, go for things like, “The way you go all gooey over romantic movies” or “Your incredible patience when little Johnny is refusing his food”. It can be serious, romantic or humorous, depending on how your wife or partner responds. Some of them will laugh at, “You're fantastic at clearing up little Johnny's puke” whilst others will... let's just say, they won't.

Creating something that she likes can be a real winner, too. My wife loves buttons. For one Christmas I made loads of them out of FIMO modelling clay – different sizes, shapes, colours and patterns. It's not difficult to do, but she adored the present. Others of you can probably paint, draw or write. If you're doing art, think of something or somewhere that she has a connection with. The cottage where you spent your honeymoon; the woods that you love to walk in together; her favourite animal – tigers, giraffes, chinchillas or whatever. If you go for something with an emotional or relational content most women will really appreciate it.

Buying clothes for women
So there was some advice on presents in general. Now for the dreaded area of clothes.

Just before Christmas lingerie shops are full of men buying underwear for their partners. Just after Christmas they're full of the women bringing it back.

It's not the case for all women, but in general, underwear is likely to go down like a lead balloon. It doesn't help that we men tend to go for “sexy”. There is a big problem here in that the message that our partner may hear is, “you're not sexy enough”. Our intentions may be right, but the result often is less than ideal.

There is advice out there about finding out what underwear she normally wears and buying a more expensive, better quality version, but personally I'd say just don't do it. Let's be honest, we men buy underwear that WE would like her to wear so it's a gift for us, not for her. She also knows that.

Other clothing can be difficult as well. I bought my wife a dress and discovered, within seconds of her trying it on, all the many considerations that there are. If the fit's not right, then it can bulge in strange places, like under the arms. Then there's the depth of cleavage, colour, shape, and all sorts of other factors. Chastened and somewhat overwhelmed, I took it back. So unless your woman is a standard shape and size, then be wary of dresses: they're too complicated. The same is true of trousers. Skirts can be relatively easy, depending on what sort of styles she wears, but blouses can be a nightmare. If she wears scarves then those are dead easy: just make sure it's similar to the styles and colours that she already likes and it's hard to go wrong.

For the complicated bits of clothing, the exception would be if you were there with her in a shop and heard her raving about something when she tried it on. In that case it's a perfect scenario for sneaking back later and buying it. The biggest pitfall here is that you must, must, must get her size right!

I haven't used that strategy with a dress, but I did with a cardigan. My wife had seen it and loved it, and so I went back a couple of days later and bought it. The fact that I'd heard her meant a lot to my wife and it was a much-appreciated present. If she'd put it down on a list and I'd gone out and got it for her, it would not have gone down anything like as well.

Shoes are another thing to steer clear of.  I have no idea what makes a shoe attractive.  My wife can look at two that are practically identical and swoon over one while telling me how vile the other is.  So unless you know that you understand your wife's taste in shoes, then it's not worth taking the risk of buying some just because you think she'd like them.

I did buy a pair with a pattern by her favourite designer and in a style that I knew that my wife really liked. She loved the shoes, but they didn't quite fit. She appreciated the thought and effort that I'd put into it so I did get points for that, but I was disappointed that she didn't wear them and eventually she gave them away. However I did have a big success with another pair. She had some shoes that she claimed were the most comfortable that she'd ever worn, so I sneaked a look at them, found the brand and style names and the size, looked them up on the Internet and bought her another pair.

A bit of thought and effort and it can be relatively straightforward!

We buy presents to make our other half happy. That's the theory anyway. So how do you judge how happy you're going to make her? One way is by thinking in terms of “points”. It's not that we're in the business of scoring points, but it's a useful way of seeing how much love we've decanted into our partner's lap.

If someone gives me a cheap, mass-produced letter opener they don't make me happy. Or, to put it another way, they get no points from me. I don't need a letter opener and don't want one. A hunk of nice cheese, though, may get 3 points: 4 if it's one that I particularly like. A brand new, super-flexible, incredibly powerful, cordless drill may get 50 points. As long as it doesn't come with a subtle message about those shelves I've been promising to put up for the last two years.

Normally the bigger, more expensive and more powerful, the more points. More options, like buttons, dials and switches, usually also get more points. A screwdriver set with the three bits that he will ever need scores low. Buy him one with a hundred bits, ninety-seven of which are so specialised that they'll never be used, and he's in heaven and you've hit the jackpot. That's typical man scoring.

Woman scoring is normally much more simple, though that's another generalisation: it helps if you get to know your woman to find out how she scores things. Typically a good present pretty much gets one point. That's right: one measly point! A ridiculously expensive diamond ring gets one point, as does a crude, home-made, ill-fitting one. However, if the home-made one has particular significance, you get an extra point for that.

That means that you can score lots of points by buying, making or creating lots of presents. You won't get big points from one big present. That's totally the opposite of men.

My mother would drive me nuts. She'd buy me lots of cheap presents at Christmas, and they were mostly junk. A plastic harmonica shaped like a banana was the most memorable. She was applying the female points system and thought she was racking them up. I was resentful because I was thinking, “If she'd saved all the money she spent on this junk, she could have bought me that fishing reel that I really wanted”.

Switching it round, if you're thinking of going for one big gesture, chances are that she'd actually respond better to a number of smaller ones. Normally she'd prefer that you used your brain more than your wallet.

Wrap up
So, keep your eyes and ears open. Listen to what she's saying and look out for things that she gushes over. Go for presents which have a connection and an emotional content because those things mean a lot more to her than their monetary value. Do that and she'll think you're wonderful. And don't tell her where you got this advice because it will spoil your secret!

I love to work with people to enhance their relationships.  We can all improve our relationships, even if they're really good anyway.  To work on getting the best out of your relationship,
contact me.​

Duncan Elliot is a life coach working out of Basingstoke in England. He particularly works with people who feel that there must be more to life and are willing to work at it, so that they can feel happier and more in control of their life. He offers life coaching in person, on the phone or via audio or video across the Internet. Click here to contact him.

Buying presents for women

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