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Gift Ex-Change
If you’re still in touch with your ex, what’s appropriate when giving during the holidays?

Exchanging gifts with your ex maybe tougher than the divorce.

Beware exes baring gifts.

If there’s one piece of advice you should take away from this article, it’s that sometimes no gift is better than one that could put a rift in a marriage. So how do you deal if your ex does buy you a gift?

"First, you have to ask yourself if you’re in a friendship where this is appropriate," says Rhonda Britten, life coach on Starting Over and founder of the Fearless Living Institute (www.fearlessliving.org). "Then ask whether the gift is appropriate," she says.

If it isn’t appropriate—we’re talking jewelry, lingerie, perfume or cologne, or anything that references an inside joke—you’re going to have to do something. Now, doing something is easier said than done. Britten recommends phoning your ex and saying, "Your thoughtfulness is so kind, but I don’t feel comfortable receiving this gift, so I’m going to have to return it to you."

To this, expect your ex to protest—to put the old, "I was just trying to be nice" routine over on you. And you’ll have to hold firm. "You have to repeat yourself—keep saying, ‘I appreciate your consideration, but I don’t feel comfortable’—it’s called ‘broken record’ communication," says Britten. "Most people don’t repeat themselves, and they’ll cave because they’ll start doubting themselves." This is dangerous territory. And this is your time to set up some clear boundaries with the ex.

"It’s not about that gift, that time," says Peter Post, author of Essential Manners for Couples. "It’s about setting a precedent for the future." The etiquette expert also recommends that you try to nip this gift-giving problem in the bud by speaking to your ex before the holidays and setting some ground rules then.

Whatever you do, don’t hide an ex’s gift from your current spouse. "Even though you know it’s wrong, you think, ‘What’s the big deal?’ and keep the present and hold that secret," says Britten. The big deal is: "The moment you stand for your ex instead of your spouse, you’re going down the wrong path."

Even if you don’t think the gift is inappropriate, if it makes your spouse uncomfortable, you need to have a talk with your ex. "Say, ‘I appreciate your gift, but my spouse is not at a place where I can accept this,’" says Post. "You have to risk hurting the feelings of an ex rather than your current relationship because if you don’t, you’re sending a message that’s not a good message."

“And if you’re really unwilling to let go of that gift,” says Britten, “you have to ask yourself, ‘Have I really let go?’ She says it’s normal to still love your ex, but you have to ask yourself whether it’s appropriate and most important, "Does it honor my current relationship?"

If you can’t separate yourself from that old relationship, you should probably also refrain from sending anything to your ex. But if you really think you can handle it, here are a few guidelines Post and Britten agree on for picking out an appropriate gift: Make it impersonal, useable and something your ex’s family (including any children you may have together) can enjoy as a group. Good choices would include tickets to movies, shows, the zoo or other fun outings, a game the family can enjoy, or food. Though sometimes it’s best to just send a generic card—or nothing at all.

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Over 1 million couples turn to Hitched for expert marital advice every year. Sign up now for our newsletter & get exclusive weekly content that will entertain, educate and inspire your marriage.

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