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A Gentleman’s Guide to Buying Gifts for Your Partner’s Family — For the First Time

Advice from a gift expert, couples therapist and a married guy with more than a decade of shared Christmases under his belt

The time has finally come: This Christmas will be the first I’ll be spending with my partner’s family, and not only her close family — every last aunt, uncle, niece, nephew, grandma, grandpa and that one lady who’s somehow lumped into the bunch, too. Which has presented me with a conundrum: Who the hell do I buy gifts for out of that multitude? Do I need to buy a bottle of wine for every aunt and uncle? Should I take a trip to Toys ‘R’ Us to grab gifts for the young’uns? How much should I spend on the parents?

If you can’t tell, I’m freaking out.

Surely I’m not the only one currently in this pickle, though? To save all of our sorry asses (and to earn bonus points with the fam), I reached out to a gift expert, a couples’ therapist and a married guy with loads of experience with shared Christmases. It’s my gift to you.

Aileen Avery, gift expert: It all depends! If you’re meeting your partner’s family for the first time, you don’t want to go overboard or look like you’re trying too hard. A nice bottle of wine for the parents and/or siblings (make sure the parents aren’t AA members, and the siblings are old enough to drink) or a box of Belgian chocolates will suffice. Also, keep the gift-giving to parents, close siblings and maybe a few nieces and nephews if they’re young.

Alternatively, you can ask your partner about her family beforehand. Say the dad likes to read — get a leather-bound book written by one of his favorite authors (get it signed by the author if you want extra points).

Finally, if you’ve known them for some time, work from their personalities and hobbies. Does mom like beer? Get her a subscription to a beer-tasting club. Does dad likes to cook? A gift certificate from Williams Sonoma would be appreciated.

Jeanette Raymond, couples therapist: First things first, consider your motive: Are you giving these gifts out of duty, obligation or to impress? Alternatively, are you giving these gifts out of joy and gratitude? What you give depends on your motive…

If you feel you have a duty to give, it really doesn’t matter much — simply get something within a reasonable price range for everyone. Wrap them in glitzy stuff because — in this case — it’s the image, not the thought that counts.

If you want to impress, you should get something special for your mother-in-law, since she’s the one you want to make the biggest impact on. Make sure you know her taste, and buy something that matches it. For the father-in-law, get something you know he enjoys, but of the best quality. For other family members, figure out the main influencers and get them something sophisticated. Also, buy the children a popular game or an app they can download.

If you’re giving out of obligation, figure out the rough prices of the gifts you received and find suitable things (or gift cards) that are equivalent. Make all the gifts similar to avoid arousing envy or comparison.

If you’re giving because you actually care about your partner’s family members, think first about the person you’re closest to: What is their passion? Get something connected to that passion — maybe it’s a subscription to something they love, or something to complete a set they’re collecting. Either way, make it personal and thoughtful. Then do the same for the next person down the line, and so on. But only give to those you’re close with: You don’t have to give everyone something, because then you’re reverting to giving out of duty or to impress. For those you aren’t close with, bring food and drinks for everyone to enjoy.

Nick, a married guy with more than a decade of shared Christmases under his belt: Oh, young one, you’re going about this all wrong. Honestly, I struggle to know what to buy my own parents, let alone someone else’s. Parents-in-law often remain somewhat inscrutable, so accurately guessing what they happen to want or need on any given Christmas is like trying to score a bullseye on a dartboard strapped to a drunken jazzercise instructor, using your shoe as the dart.

So don’t bother. Instead, make a deal with your partner. From our very first Christmas together, my wife and I have done the same thing: I buy gifts for my family from both of us, she buys gifts for her family from both of us. It’s easy, it’s effective, and best of all, it takes at worst half the effort it otherwise would. Why anyone would do this differently is completely beyond me.