Today on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we’d like to talk about bank accounts.

Nearly every book, article, or blog written about holiday stress invariably mentions the subject of money. Holiday spending can feel hollow and burdensome, but ultimately unavoidable, so we end up spending hours every year picking through often-meaningless trinkets, dealing with the stress of budget limitations, standing in line with increasingly insistent headaches, and hemorrhaging money at the register. This is our obligation.

Businesses use the holiday season to boost sales and barrage us with messages that stand in stark contrast to the values they purportedly defend. The corporations driving modern consumer culture want us to believe that – in our most intimate relationships – money creates meaning and cash communicates care. Spending dollars proves our love to those we hold dear.

But we know that money is not the currency of love. Can’t buy me love! In today’s blog, we suggest some alternatives:

Instead of focusing on making financial withdrawals this year, let’s work on making deposits into our emotional bank accounts, showing friends and family how much we care by giving them our time, personal attention, and affection. Instead of shopping to show our love, let’s spend our few precious hours of free time connecting with our loved ones.

We’ve said it before, and we will certainly say it again: give the gift of a great relationship this holiday season.

Think about it – what are some of the best gifts you’ve ever received? Chances are, they didn’t cost obscene amounts of money. They likely weren’t even store-bought. Instead of overspending on presents this year, consider giving your loved ones something more personal: A meaningful experience. A great day. A beautiful memory.

Here are some examples to think about:

Your daughter, Emma, loves jewelry. Instead of springing for that shiny necklace or bracelet, consider a beading kit that you can use to create pretty things together. Say, friendship bracelets. Celebrate your bond!

Your little boy, Peter, loves trains. Instead of buying your budding engineer that expensive model train set, consider one that’s well within your budget and make time to set it up and play with him! Ask each other questions: Where did the trains come from? Where are they going? Who are they carrying? Make up stories about the passengers. Celebrate imagination!

Your husband, Joe, loves camping. Instead of wildly overspending on that beautiful tent you’ve been eyeing in the latest edition of his outdoorsy catalog, suggest a weekend get-away. Just the two of you under the stars. Celebrate romance and adventure!

Your sister, Amy, the perennial activist, is becoming increasingly concerned about violence in her part of town. Instead of buying her a book or scarf this year, look up a community class on self-defense. Suggest taking it together. Celebrate learning and self-care!

Look forward to this Friday’s Weekend Homework Assignment, in which we will attempt to inspire you by sharing some fun and inexpensive ways to connect with your family and friends over the holidays!


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Ellie Lisitsa

Ellie Lisitsa is a staff writer at The Gottman Institute and a regular contributor to The Gottman Relationship Blog. Ellie is pursuing her B.A. in Psychology with an emphasis on Cognitive Dissonance at Reed College in Portland, Oregon.