Both PsyBlog and BPS Digest have taken timely note of recent research by psychologist Elizabeth Dunn and colleagues into how men and women react differently to unwanted gifts. The PsyBlog posts points out the problem with gift-giving in romantic relationships:
Psychological research on how gift-giving affects relationships hints at this no-win situation. Studies suggest that good gifts only affirm similarity between couples, and so do little for the relationship. Poor gifts, though, may lead people to question their similarity with each other, thereby damaging the relationship.
Dunn's research shows that the intensity of revulsion felt at a bad gift varies by gender. Men readily interpret an ill-suited gift as a sign that the relationship won't last; women are more likely to rationalize away a bad gift to protect the relationship: "women are more motivated than men to marshal psychological defence mechanisms to protect against the damaging effects of poor gifts." Obviously, this reflects a certain power dynamic at work, likely a legacy of patriarchy. Part of the "domestic angel in the household" stereotype for women involves "effortlessly" coming up with the right gifts for people while evincing all sorts of inherent holiday cheer. The holidays become an arena where those confined to the domestic sphere can show off their worth and excel, demonstrate competency and secure recognition for it. But the consequence is that the effort starts to be taken for granted; men expect the elaborate holiday performance of women as a domestic tour de force; women don't expect the same from men.
To me, the clear response to this is to rid relationships of gift-giving expectations to remove this patriarchal hangover. And then give gifts when you feel like it. If you dare it, you might declare that every moment you spend with a partner is your gift to them, and vice versa.