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9 Relationship-Ending Holiday Gifts

Photograph by Getty Images

In theory, every holiday gift should be received with gratitude and appreciation. That being said, there are some I would never, ever give a significant other (or want to receive from one!) and the honest truth about why they’re a bad idea.

Your Favorite Anything. It could be a copy of your favorite movie or a pound of your favorite local coffee. You may think that sharing one of your favorite things is a thoughtful way to bring us even closer together, but think again. There is no way that I, as your significant other, will love your favorite thing as much as you do. This will annoy you. And the fact that you’re so obsessed with wanting me to love it will annoy me. Soon we’ll have a big fight about coffee beans and that will be the beginning of the end.

A framed picture of the two of us together (or even worse, a framed picture of just yourself)

No matter how much I love you, a picture of your face is not a gift. I am your partner, not some random fan of you. As your partner, I get copyright-free permissions to your face 365 days a year, both in person and in print. Like lingerie (but for different reasons), framed pictures fall into the category of gifts that only work as “just-because” presents. Give a framed photo to celebrate our month-aversary, not a major gift-giving holiday.

A pet

Adopting a pet is not a decision that a person should make for someone else, unless that person is your child. And I’m not your child. Giving a pet as a gift could end your relationship because pets eat things they aren’t supposed to, pee on things they aren’t supposed to and are a lot of responsibility for the next 10 to 20 years. The abundance of homeless pets in the world means that puppies and kittens and hamsters are often available for very little money — or free. So if I wanted a kitten right now, I would have one already.


The first problem with sexy underwear as a gift is the awkward pressure it puts on me as the recipient to look right in it. What if I don’t fill it out correctly, and it’s baggy in all the places that are supposed to be tight? Or what if it’s too tight, and I can’t fit into it at all? Second: Do you expect me to let you see me in the lingerie? Yeah? Will you enjoy that? Yes? Okay, so explain to me how is this not a present for you? This is not to say that you can never buy lingerie as a gift. But, again, buy it as a “just because” present when no gift is expected and that way we won’t have to get into all the technicalities of who it’s really for.

A subscription to a something-of-the-month club

This one may seem petty, but I’ve seen more than one relationship go south after a monthly subscription gift. So take this warning seriously. The problem with gift-of-the-month clubs for significant others is that the gratitude obligation just keeps going and going. Every month the gift arrives and every month I have to express my gratitude anew or risk seeming ungrateful. But what if the monthly installment arrives on a day that we’re fighting? Or what if my monthly artisan jams arrive seven months in, and, heaven forbid, I forget to say thank you? It’s too much. Too much pressure, too much jam, just too much.

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Couple's massage

A couple's massage is never to be gifted when you and your partner have imposed a gift spending limit. Otherwise the experience goes something like this: A massage, thank you! Oh you’re coming too? Fun! Wow you are really enjoying this massage. Perhaps even more than I am. So much groaning. Maybe when I bought you that nice bottle of whiskey I should have bought some wine for myself as part of your present.

The homemade thing

If you’re in a serious relationship, spending countless hours knitting a quilt or building a bookcase is a beautiful symbol of your undying love for your partner. But if you aren’t at the stage in the relationship, where you both know you’re going to be together forever and openly talk about it, then a gift that proves your undying love is a little, I don't know, aggressive?

The big, practical purchase

If you’re filthy rich, please feel free to buy extremely expensive gifts for me on a whim. But if you are a financially normal person, buying a big-ticket item is risky territory as generous and romantic as it might seem. Let’s say you blow your entire savings on car with a big bow on it, and we have one of those car-commercial Christmas moments where you surprise me with it in the driveway. Awww!! But then what happens if I’m not very good about getting the oil changed? What if a few years down the road I want to trade it in for an SUV? There’s too much room for resentment and feelings of lingering ownership.


Coffee table books or high-quality nonfiction books make great gifts. Novels, however, are a catch-22. If you give me a novel that you’ve already read, you’re basically giving me a reading assignment, and it’s like being in a book club where I’m one book behind everybody else. That’s no fun. On the other hand, if you give me a novel that you did not read yourself, you appear to have grabbed a random book with no thought put into it. Wait, are you hinting that you don’t think I read enough?

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