Updated on 06.26.08

You Can’t Buy Love

Trent Hamm

About two weeks ago, I did something incredibly stupid. Without even really thinking about it, I let my wife down. I made one of those careless, thoughtless little mistakes that when you realize what you’ve done, you might want to slap yourself in the head about it, but a mistake can’t be undone.

My first temptation was to buy her some sort of gift to “make up” for my mistake. I know what sorts of things she likes, so I browsed through some sites and found a couple of great items that I could give her that would patch things over.

But then I came to my senses.

Buying my wife something won’t make up for a mistake I made. In fact, buying her something right now would just send a message to her that I view her love and respect as something that can be bought.

The only way to deal with a poor decision or with a marital rough patch is through communication. If your partner is upset with you, especially if you really can’t understand why, don’t get mad. Listen. Talk through the problem. Ask questions. Figure out what you can do so that the mistake doesn’t happen again. Let your partner know that you truly do love him or her, and that you aren’t a perfect person, and that you made a mistake. Then, try to take all of that into your own heart and make improvements within yourself.

Buying a gift and not talking about the problem? That just paints the wrong kind of picture. It merely shows that you view your issues as something that can be wiped away with money. And they can’t.

Fortunately, I’m a lucky enough man to have a wife who is very forgiving of my inequities. In fact, if she’s reading this right now, I wouldn’t be surprised if she were scratching her head, trying to remember what exactly I’m talking about. At least, I sincerely hope that’s the case.

Marriage isn’t easy. No relationship is truly easy. There are always going to be times when you do something stupid and rash and make someone else upset by your poorly-considered actions. What makes a relationship work isn’t how you avoid such mistakes, it’s how you handle them.

Whenever you’re in a situation where you’ve made a mistake and you’re trying to patch things up, don’t spend your time buying flowers or making grandiose promises about great things to come. Instead, remember just four words:

You can’t buy love.

Then head home, sit down, and have a real conversation. Instead of trying to buy away the problem, try to solve it with real understanding, love, and compassion instead.

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  1. Onaclov2000 says:

    The problem with “buying” love, is that if every time you make a mistake and buy her/him something, the next time you just decide out of the kindness of your heart to buy something for him/her, they have already begun to associate whatever gifts you give as admitting to your mistake, so they may begin to wonder what you did wrong that they don’t know about right at that moment, which causes suspicion and all kinds of junk, I have to agree Trent, if you mess up, man up and deal with the problem face to face, don’t try to mask it.

  2. Ramona says:

    Seriously? You think she’s scratching her head? Truth is, in the last two weeks, there’s likely been more than one “let-down”. Just another difference between men & women. She doesn’t want or need gifts, she just wants to be able to count on you. Always.

  3. Frugalicious says:

    I bought my husband off once. That was the best $50 I have ever spent. I really messed up. The kind where he specifically asked me not to do something, but I did it anyways. We are not used to me being the one messing up, so we both really didn’t know what to do.

    I am glad to hear your marriage is better than mine. The buying off was after a long conversation though.

  4. Crystal says:

    What a great post. I have to admit, I do the same thing, and not just for when I make a mistake but when I sense that my partner is down or unhappy. I want to cheer him up. And I guess it’s okay to buy him things once in a while for that reason, but the better response would be to talk about what’s making him unhappy. Go for a walk together. Wash his car. Make his fave dinner. Something small and special that lets him know I’m thinking of him.

  5. Brandon says:

    I agree that you can’t buy love, but I swear that if I make a mistake and hurt my wife’s feelings that forgiveness comes quicker if the apology is accompanied by flowers or something else thoughtful.

  6. luvleftovers says:

    “Buying my wife something won’t make up for a mistake I made. In fact, buying her something right now would just send a message to her that I view her love and respect as something that can be bought.”

    Oh, if only my ex-husband had understood that!!!

    I think I’m still paying all that off.

  7. Ann says:

    On the hand other than Onaclov2000’s, if you always buy gifts to make up for mistakes, every time you make a mistake she/he’ll expect a gift. The treacherous circles we find ourselves in…

    I try to return to the battlefield with only two cents.

  8. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    “something else thoughtful.”

    It’s the thoughtful part, not the item itself.

  9. Shanel Yang says:

    By the same token, money can’t buy new relationships, either. There has to be mutual respect and fondness. Treating friends to everything or buying them gifts is a crutch for working on your actual social skills and developing a likable personality.

    Nor, can money act as a consolation prize to someone who has lost something they really wanted, as in the case of kids who lose out in some contest they really wanted to win. I made this mistake with my 3 younger sisters always taking them out to eat (bad money and food habits!) to console them whenever they had a really bad at school or whatever. It wasn’t my fault, but I felt bad for them anyway and wanted to make them feel better. In hindsight, I wish I had just let them feel their sadness so that they could learn whatever they could from those painful experiences, without trying to make the pain go away as quickly as possible with goodies.

  10. Wil says:

    True, money cannot buy love, but sometimes buying something with a little thought behind it can buy enough of an opening to allow for that conversation, apology, etc; especially if the spouse is really, REALLY mad. Something that says, I know I did something wrong, and I want to discuss that, but here is a little something to make up for all the time your day has been ruined because you were upset.

    I guess each marriage is different. My wife doesn’t need something every time I get her mad, but I think she appreciates that I understand the effect on her day outside of interactions with me. But if she was the type that needed flowers whenever I did something wrong, you’d better believe there would be flowers. She’s worth it.

  11. "Mo" Money says:

    I think if your wife is still angry over what you did, buying a gift will not be acceptable to her. But if she has forgotten the incident and you bring her flowers, she will appreciate the gesture.

  12. BeneluxBen says:

    Actually here in Europe it is legal to buy love, but with the going rate around 80 euros/hour it’s certainly not what I would call frugal!

  13. “Something that says, I know I did something wrong, and I want to discuss that, but here is a little something to make up for all the time your day has been ruined because you were upset.”

    I agree. Though it isn’t about the thing, of course, as trent pointed out. A hand made funny card or something like that would be good. Something that took a few minutes to think about. Yeah, it is the thoughtfulness, and yeah problems need to be discussed, but actions rather than just words are important too.

  14. KC says:

    A small, inexpensive gift can’t hurt. Stop somewhere on the way home and pick up her favorite dessert from a restaurant/grocery store. Or do something that is usually her responsibility (like laundry or some other household chore that she does). Take the kids to the park for a few hours to allow her to unwind or just loaf around doing nothing. These gestures, two of which don’t cost money, will put a little more empasis on the apology and more importantly drive home the point that you realize you made a mistake. Sometimes a verbal apology just doesn’t hit home like the gesture does.

  15. deepali says:

    I like the idea of the gesture plus the apology. When I do something wrong, I instinctively apologize, but I know my apology means more if I accompany it with a gesture that I know he would appreciate.

    Find out what small things he/she likes you to do, and add that in. It makes the apology more sincere.

  16. MBL says:

    Money can’t buy love or happiness, I have to agree with that.

    If anything, buying something after doing something stupid should be more of a gesture than a feeble attempt at an apology. An apology should always come in the form of admission and listening.

    I think the hardest part with buying something is showing the gesture behind the thought because it is too easy to assume it is an attempt at an apology.

  17. bob says:

    When my wife is mad at me for something I did, I usually turn it around on her and make it like the whole argument is her fault. She usually ends up apologizing to me instead.

  18. LC says:

    Have you read Chapman’s book “The Five Love Languages”? One of the languages is gifts, but I know its important to remember that the gift doesn’t have to be store bought. Although its not my love language, I do appreciate it when someone cooks me something. Something about that makes me feel at home and loved. The biggest thing for me is undivided attention. THAT is a great gift, especially from my husband.

    One benefit to not buying too many gifts is that you have less clutter too.

  19. BonzoGal says:

    As a wife, I have to say that I prefer words to gifts. When my husband has bought me a gift or flowers to “smooth over” a disagreement, it’s like he’s telling me that my feelings can be ameliorated with something material. What I REALLY want is a discussion. Even an email during our work day, or a written note to start things out with is better to me than flowers or whatever. To me, a gift is less thoughtful because it’s a “one size fits all” solution. Words are better every time. (This is how I feel- YMMV, and I’m not dissing anyone else’s POV.)

    That being said, a gift for no reason is wonderful- giving little gifts “just because” can be delightful. (And doesn’t have to be expensive!)

  20. LC says:

    Bob, I just read your comment. I think that could build up resentment and end up biting you someday.
    Trent, your post is sweet and I thank you for showing us your example.

  21. Family Man says:

    Buying a gift is never a perfect solution. My in-laws do that quite often, which does nothing more that show there is a dollar value for forgivness. There is a famous quote that says “In every marriage over a week old there is grounds for divorce.” In order to be sucessfull communication and mutual respect are key. Sounds like you are on the right track!

  22. partgypsy says:

    I guess my slogan would be: “actions speak louder than words”.
    Like others have said here, while it is good to apologize or start a dialog, it is also good to demonstrate your love, caring, and thoughtfulness in other ways. I have caught myself in a bad mood and taking it out on my husband. When I realize it it doesn’t neccesarily need an apology but I try to be more considerate, by cleaning up more, making his favorite cookies, give him a back massage. Sometimes a gesture is more romantic than a dry discussion of what could have been done better, especially when what could be done better is obvious.

  23. Kim says:

    I couldn’t have said it better myself, Trent!

    @Bob – that’s sick.

  24. consumer says:

    Trent, you are not alone when you had the first thought of buy-a-gift-to-make-things-better. Many men have this idea, and I believe that most guys [unfortunately] think that the act of presenting the gift has resolved the issue… “Problem solved!”
    (This popular belief by males is evident even within the comments to this blogpost.)
    Of course this is bunk, and your partner may view the bought-love thing, but may also think – rightly so – that you are avoiding the problematic issue altogether.

    I also offer that getting mad is okay, so long as communication is still open during that emotion, and you are careful in how the anger is expressed. I also think that saying something like “I am not a perfect person” is a silly excuse, because she already knows this, and it is a bit of a cop-out on your part if you truly wish to own up to your mistake.

    This is just one fella’s opinion, of course.

    Books to check out:
    _Social Intelligence_ by Daniel Goleman
    _The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work_ by John Gottman

  25. Meg says:

    You can’t buy love, but who can resist a nice foot-rub (or other affectionate physical gesture which costs $0)?


  26. Please don’t misconstrue this as a plug, but my wife is a singer-songwriter that has a song about emotions taking over in marriage and how love is a *choice* that we make every day — like you said, how we handle the mistakes. Thought you might enjoy it — it’s called “Runaway Train”.


  27. Paul says:

    Trent – Purchased gifts are one of the five love languages from Gary Chapman’s book of that title. Some people respond more favorably to receiving gifts. Others prefer acts of service, undivided quality time, physical touch, or kind words. I don’t think you can completely discount the need to give gifts to your spouse if that is important to her, but you are right in realizing it isn’t a get out of jail free card, and it might not be the responsible thing to do to sustain your relationship.

  28. Jules says:

    Of course marriage isn’t easy (and I’m not even married, yet). I can’t tell you how many times my counterpart has made me angry to the point where I want to strangle him. He’s not dead because a) he’s a black belt in two martial arts, and b) I’ve learned how to figure out what’s really worth making an issue out of.

    I’m not one to speak rashly, and I think that’s what’s saved us a lot of grief. He knows that if I sit him down to have a Talk, it’s damn well serious. Otherwise I’ll have my moods, slam a few doors, and be done with it.

  29. Lisa says:

    Do you really mean your wife is forgiving of your “inequities” (unfairnesses) or do you mean she’s forgiving of your “iniquities” (sins)?

    Either way, I’d say you’re a lucky man.

  30. deepali says:

    I think one-size-fits-all is dangerous. Not all men use gifts as apologies, and not all women shun them. What matters, I think, is the honesty and sincerity behind your chosen method of apology.

    Per Paul’s comment above – find out what language your partner speaks and engage him or her in that way.

    Not all women need discussion either – I certainly don’t. My ideal scenario involves one person explaining what went wrong, and the other person apologizing sincerely. And then I tend to want to eat. :)

  31. Stephanie says:

    No you can’t buy love. But if you are about the long haul in your relationship, a good talk and a massage therapy or pedicure certificate goes a LONG way!

    Buying services rather than tangible stuff that usually ends up being clutter not only would pamper her but also give her the time away from the home to decompress from the stress you may have caused.

  32. Shevy says:

    I’m glad I’m not married to Bob! That’s very abusive and manipulative behavior if he was serious.

    I’m of 2 minds about the concept. If I was really mad about something, getting something that I really like would be nice along *with* the apology (bringing home Starbucks or some Godiva Chocolate, for example) but I don’t want the first thing his eye lit on at 7-11 and I don’t want it to be a case of giving a token gift excuses any kind of behavior.

    In other words, show me you care about me and the incident isn’t the true you. Don’t try to bribe me so you can continue to behave badly.

  33. imelda says:

    I concur with you Trent, up to a point. I say, do everything you said in this article…and *then* give her a gift! Couldn’t hurt, eh?

  34. Benjmain says:

    Unfortunately, there are a few vein men and women out there who’s “love” can be bought!

    Rarely do such relationships last, but some do!

  35. constant learning says:

    I echo the reference to The Five Love Languages. People feel loved by various expressions of love. The love languages are: gifts, quality time, physical touch, acts of service, and words of affirmation.

    I feel most loved through quality time and physical touch. My sister in law feels most loved through gifts. If I apologized to her, I would apologize and include a gift as an indicator of how much I love her (it doesn’t need to cost money – it is the token of love that means so much to her). If someone was apologizing to me, I would appreciate them taking the time to listen to my hurt, discuss what happened, and reach out and hug me.

  36. Jenny says:

    No, money can’t buy love and communication is of ultra importance in a marriage. But, sometimes those little apology gifts really are swell.

  37. Sara says:

    Good points. Besides, buying make-up gifts only conditions you or your loved one to hold grudges and potentially communicate less, seeing as there’s always a payoff for it.

    My husband would take a buyoff as an insult, like I’m treating the same as a cranky three-year-old, and he wouldn’t be wrong in being upset about that.

  38. Jessica says:

    Another recommendation for the Five Love Languages-I’m not at all the relationship book reading type, but we read this for pre-marital counseling and it’s a great book. I appreciate that it doesn’t make sweeping generalizations about gender relations, but rather focuses on the idea that people feel they are being loved in different ways, and that love is not just feelings but actions.

  39. Rob says:

    The time to give the gift is BEFORE you make the mistake, not after.

  40. reulte says:

    How to apologize . . .

    1). I’m sorry (if you truly are; can be amended with reasons if applicable)

    2). It won’t happen again (otherwise, I’m an unfeeling jerk and why do I bother apologizing or you can say “I’ll try not to let that happen again”.)

    3). What can I do to make it up to you? (tossing the ball into their court for a request for dialogue, a gift, a cuddle, or simply acknowledgement that feelings are hurt).

    My family finds this apology very effective.

  41. Jenyfer says:

    I can’t believe no one has asked what you did, Trent! lol–have a great weekend

  42. Katie says:

    Are you sure that it is possible for men to communicate about their relationships? My husband is trying to convince me that non-communication in marriage is good/desired/normal. (I need a ‘rolling my eyes’ smiley!)

  43. Mayank says:

    Yes, it is possible for us men to communicate about relationships. Only, we require much less communication that our counterparts :)

  44. CyanSquirrel says:

    Ah Trent, you’re a real gem! Your wife is very lucky to have you. A man that thinks about things on the level you do is a man to keep. You remind me a lot of my own husband, although he’s a little rougher around the edges (not so intellectual, more grunt, ha!), but he has the same heart and respect for women that you do. If you have any sons, I have a feeling they have a great role model in their life. Thank you.

  45. Christine says:

    I think it depends on the nature of the “transgression” and the gift – only you and your wife know each other well enough to choose the right action.

    I find that the bigger the screwup, the less likely a material gesture will ease the situation.

    And it sounds like your wife is a very loving and forgiving woman in general. But if you sincerely apologize (gift or not) and the other party has trouble accepting it, it’s really their problem from that point on.

  46. Gretchen says:

    Ultimately, what would the purpose of the gift be in this case? To show your wife that you were willing to give up something important to you (money) in order to show her that you care and that you are sorry. What you give up doesn’t have to be money – it can be time or attention even.

    I don’t know that buying a gift in such cases is always a bad idea – it depends on what you did wrong. Sometimes, getting a little something that shows that you know the person and are paying attention to him or her can be a good thing, just not always.

  47. Misty says:

    Trent- I bet your wife feels much better now about your “stupid mistake” after reading this post! See, this was a simple solution and didn’t cost a thing.
    We all do dumb things in marriage, but hearing my husband truly apologize and tell me that what he did was incredibly dumb makes me feel much better!

  48. jana says:

    if my husband did something bad to me, i would surely liked much more not just a talk, but also flowers or something. and i am not a gold-digger, and make decent money: it is just that this kind of thinking “i might buy her a gift”… “no, i will just talk eith her instead” seems more like the man thinking about how not to spend his money on her. and maybe it reminds me of people who have tried to “save” by not buying me things, even things they promised, so i am more sensitive to that (i had it as a kid-ie i never got new clothes, and some old ones were very yucky. i have dated men who were in it because i am succesful. etc:)

  49. nebula61 says:

    I think the first impulse of buying someone a gift to make up for something is rather denigrating; sort of what you would do for a child, not a grown woman. Now, maybe there are those who would prefer the gift (obviously there are, from responses listed here) and maybe you meant no disrespect with the gesture (I’m glad you thought better of it) but I would much prefer a sincere apology and reformed behavior in the future. That shows respect and affection–to remember NOT to do it next time! Gifts should be given from an open heart, not a guilty one.

  50. Linda says:

    Gosh, I used to work for bob #17 and he treats his employees the same way. What is with that guy? I can only think that his ego is SO fragile that he can never be wrong.

    Sad, ain’t it?

  51. Lola says:

    Once I really had a bad fight with my husband, and it was all his fault, as usual. I didn’t even want to talk to him. Then he left me a package of M&M’s with a note “There’s more where this came from”. And of course he meant the supermarket, but I had to forgive him for his sense of humor.

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