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Gift-giving raises the relationship stakes for men and women during the holidays

Holiday gift-giving can be a major source of tension for couples, according to a new study, with men more likely to feel higher levels of pressure and have bigger expectations.

Overall, “deciding on a budget” for gifts and “going over budget” were the top holiday stressors on relationships, with 30% of respondents citing both factors in a recent Bread Financial survey of 2,000 US consumers. Feeling pressured to spend too much and expecting bigger gifts could also drive rift between couples.

The survey underscores the challenges that come with holiday spending, but also offers insights that could help couples navigate conflict.

“The findings shed light on gender dynamics, financial pressures, and the prevalence of secretive spending, offering valuable insights for individuals navigating relationships during the festive season,” said Nick Antonelli, CMO at Bread Financial. “By understanding these dynamics, readers can proactively address potential issues, foster open communication, and make informed decisions about their finances to reduce stress and bring more joy to their holidays.”

Read more: Are holiday loans a good idea? Here are some options.

The study found that 41% of men felt more pressure to spend money on their partners compared to 26% of women. (Photo: Getty Creative)
The study found that 41% of men felt more pressure to spend money on their partners compared to 26% of women. (Photo: Getty Creative) (DGLimages via Getty Images)

‘Demonstrate their provider role’

Overall, nearly a third of study participants said they felt pressure to spend more than they’d like, with men feeling it the most. The study found that 41% of men felt more pressure to spend money on their partners compared to 26% of women.

That led to big purchases and secrecy. For instance, 3 in 5 men have hidden holiday spending from their partners. Of those, a third spent over $1,000 on a secret holiday purchase. Meanwhile, only 9% of women said the same.

At the same time, men also had bigger expectations. The study found 31% of men expected an extravagant gift from their significant other, while just 15% of women felt that way. Meanwhile, 12% of women said they were financially incompatible with their partners when it comes to holiday spending versus 5% of men who said the same.

“Around the holidays, men might feel the need to demonstrate their provider role by spending more, expecting extravagant gifts,” said Travis Sholin, a family wealth adviser and financial therapist with Keystone Financial Services, who was not involved in the study. “And women might be more about the expectations of being thoughtful gift givers, and maybe not necessarily expecting the same in return.”

Read more: How a balance transfer can help eliminate holiday debt

‘A red flag’ for young adults

In some relationships, the tension over gift-giving reaches a breaking point — especially among younger adults.

The study found that 11% of Gen Z and 10% of millennial single respondents said they had broken up with their significant other over a holiday gift, while 14% of Gen Z and 12% of millennials singles said they had been dumped over a holiday gift.

About a third of Gen Z and millennial singles said they broke up – or would break up – with someone to avoid giving them a holiday gift.

But a good portion of these younger generations delayed breakups as well over gifts.

Yet, gift-giving can delay breakups as well. The study showed that 40% of Gen Z and 31% of millennial singles have waited or would wait to break up with someone to get a holiday gift.

(Photo: Getty Creative)
(Photo: Getty Creative) (JGI/Tom Grill via Getty Images)

In the same vein, 32% of Gen Z and 30% of millennial singles felt guilted into staying in a relationship after receiving an expensive gift.

“A red flag in general is if you're going to break up with someone over a gift, but also staying with somebody over a large gift,” said Sholin. “There's the psychological aspect of ‘this person could be a good provider and a good partner long term,’ and that might have some bearing on what they think and if they think they should remain in that relationship or not.”

Think ‘financial transparency’

Even though survey respondents hated budgets, Sholin said couples should still make one for the holidays — to set expectations and to keep everyone financially secure.

“You don't want to put a bunch of money on credit cards that you got to work to pay off,” Sholin said. “So having a budget that is realistic, that isn't going to cause a financial strain on your family is always a good thing.”

Read more: How to pay off credit card debt when your budget's tight

Sholin also recommended that couples be as transparent with their partners as possible with their finances, especially during the holiday season. He encouraged active listening and it was important for partners to let each other know they are hearing what the other is saying.

“Financial transparency,” he said. “If couples do openly discuss their budgets and their spending expectations ahead of time, they can avoid some of the stress that's caused by hidden spending.”

Last, he reminded couples struggling to manage holiday spending to remember that they’re not alone, and that the problem is manageable.

“Financial issues are the number one stressors in relationships,” he said. “And so if you can avoid creating those stressors by having conversations ahead of time, that's always going to be beneficial within your relationships and for your finances.”

Dylan Croll is a Yahoo Finance reporter.

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