Contract may encourage happy holidays

December 30, 2002|by JoEllen Barnhart

I didn't realize it, but apparently I wanted a cordless drill for Christmas this year. Last year I learned that I wanted a CD with the best of Hank Williams Jr. Funny, I can't name a single Hank Williams Jr. song off the top of my head but ask me about Barbara Streisand and I'm all over it. I just love her music. I guess my husband thought I needed to expand my carpentry skills and my country music repertoire.

I don't mean to sound unappreciative, but something happens to my husband when he goes gift shopping alone. Many women tell me the same phenomenon happens to their significant other when they launch their search for the perfect present.

For instance, take the first Christmas my husband and I spent as a married couple. You will never guess what romantic keepsake he wrapped and presented me with on that special day. He gave me a wool camouflage sweater. (I'm not making this up.) Is there someone out there who understands the motivation behind this gift because years later, I'm still trying to understand his message.


Of course, my reaction was fake. I forced a smile and said "Wow! Thanks for the nice warm sweater, honey; it's just what I've always wanted." But I was screaming on the inside, "What on earth were you thinking? Do you have plans to take me into forest to act out scenes from The Deer Hunter? WHERE IS MY REAL GIFT?"

The sweater was my real gift so I sought revenge. I accidentally washed the wool sweater in hot water and threw it into the dryer - on the hot and high cycle. It shrunk so much that Army Barbie couldn't even wear it.

After several years of more "thoughtful" gifts (including a tin plate for our 10th wedding anniversary) I found a solution, written by Madeleine Begun Kane and reprinted here with permission: a contract. Just in case your relationship is taxed by camouflage sweaters and tin plates you might try substituting this agreement instead of giving subtle hints.

Holiday Gift Giving Agreement

AGREEMENT entered into this ____________ (Date) by Husband and Wife, hereafter called "Couple."

WHEREAS, Couple often argues over ill-chosen gifts; and

WHEREAS, a gift giving agreement may save Couple's marriage and/or reduce return trips to the mall.

NOW, THEREFORE, Couple hereby agrees to these provisions:


1. Self-serving gifts shall be avoided. For example, Husband shall not buy Wife the following:

a. Chocolate when Wife is on a diet.

b. Tight clothing meant to encourage Wife to diet.

c. Anything transparent.

2. Husband shall not give Wife practical gifts such as an iron, a dish washer or a vacuum cleaner ... unless husband plans to use them.

3. Husband shall keep track of Wife's clothing sizes, except those Wife refuses to divulge.

4. Husband shall not give Wife anything that can be bought at an airport.

5. Husband shall not buy Wife earrings that weigh more than her head.

6. Husband shall remember that gifts should be personal. Gift certificates, checks, and wads of cash are not personal ... unless large enough to buy a diamond watch.

7. Husband shall avoid all of the following:

a. His former girlfriend's favorite fragrance.

b. His mother's favorite fragrance.

c. Anything Wife admires on someone else, unless Husband confirms candor of compliment.

8. Husband is encouraged to buy Wife gifts in the following categories:

a. Anything Wife specifically requests.

b. Catalogue items discreetly circled by Wife.

c. Any object containing silver, platinum and/or gold.


1. Wife shall not give Husband anything that smells like perfume ... no matter how macho its name.

2. Wife shall not buy Husband home repair manuals.

3. Wife shall not give Husband anything "cute."

4. Wife shall not buy Husband silk boxers, unless she agrees to wear a matching pair.

5. Wife shall not give Husband anything that's for Husband's own good.

6. Wife is encouraged to buy husband items in the following categories:

a. Anything Couple's 12-year-old son would like.

b. Sporting equipment, provided Husband can exchange it for something with a better feel.

c. Electronic and computer equipment, provided Husband can exchange it for something with more oomph.


1. If, despite all precautions, one spouse buys the other something he/she hates, Couple shall behave in a diplomatic fashion. Saying the following shall not be deemed diplomatic:

a. "Are you insane? How could you get me something so ugly, stupid, and out of style?"

b. "Give me the receipt you cheapskate. And while you're at it, give me your gift back."

c. "But you said you wanted this. I have you on tape."

2. Couple shall cherish the loving thought behind every single gift ... even the ones they exchange.


Husband ________________________

Wife _____________________________

This treaty really works. Next to my new cordless drill was a tiny box, wrapped to perfection. The contents included a beautiful locket to place miniature photos of my children. It looked exactly like the photo of the necklace I circled with a yellow neon highlighter.

JoEllen Barnhart is assistant to the director for Frostburg State University's Hagerstown Center. She has three sons. The Web-site for Madeleine Begun Kane is

The Herald-Mail Articles