Let down after holidays

I know some of you are off duty, but here's a letter about holiday disappointment. If you're around, please help.

Dear Meredith,

I've been married for over 20 years and my question is: How do I deal with the constant disappointment of my husband letting me down for special occasions? He has been like this since we met. He has completely forgotten to say "Happy Birthday" some years, never mind even getting me a gift or doing anything to celebrate. When he does remember holidays, he usually gets me the same thing -- a gift certificate to a store I like.

For my birthday several months ago he got me a gift certificate for an activity that we both enjoy, but he hasn't made the effort to schedule it or get a sitter so we can go, so it sits unused. This year for Christmas he got me a gift certificate to that same store and was perplexed that I was disappointed.

On his birthday, he's always in a great mood and can't wait to open up his gifts. But holidays are always a letdown for me. Why does this bother me so much? I am happy in our marriage in every other way, but I always know I'll be disappointed for special occasions and sometimes I shrug it off ... but sometimes it puts me in a bad mood for a couple of days until I realize how petty I'm being. Some people say to buy my own gifts, but the point is, I want him to put some effort into these things and make me feel special.

– Disappointed and Let Down, Boston

I get it, DALD. You're done with the gift certificates.

I see three options here. You can accept this as one of his flaws, give specific gift instructions, or get creative. Personally, I like option No. 3. Next Christmas, challenge him to see who can buy the most creative gift for less than $10. See what he comes up with. If he knows that creativity is on the line, he won't be able to resort to getting you the annual gift certificate. Tell him that you don't consider it cheating if he asks your friends for advice about gifts. Friends often know exactly what you want. Push him to investigate. And with the $10 limit, he'll know that this isn't about the money.

Also give him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he gives you a gift certificate to that store because he likes the way you look in whatever you get there. Maybe he saw your face light up the first time you got that gift certificate and he's hoping that will happen again.

I'm not saying this isn't a problem -- he should step it up, for sure -- but he seems to be someone who struggles with this stuff. You don't have to buy your own gifts, but you can help him along. Before your birthday, give him a catalog of clothes (or pajamas?) and ask him to order what he'd like to see you wear. You can help him along and make this fun for both of you.

And please, use that activity gift certificate. Yes, he should do the legwork to make it happen, but meet him halfway. Otherwise the thing's going to expire. Like my catalog idea?

Readers? Ideas for this LW? Anyone involved with a bad gift giver? Discuss.

– Meredith