The number one thing the woman in your life wants is more time. Time to indulge in her pre-family fantasies of cocktail parties and weekends in New York. Possibly. Actually, a day out with an old friend or time to catch up on Downton Abbey would go a long way.
But perhaps you get criticised every time you try to help. And when you suggest getting a cleaner, she tells you she doesn't want one - she just wants a bit more help from you.
It's hopeless, right? Wrong. If you want to get her the most valuable present there is this Valentine's day, you just need to know a few rules. And if you can get this right, you're on a fast track to hero status.
DIY hero: put your own time in
1. No woman ever minds a task being taken off her to-do list and sorted. So surprise can be good. But...
2. Finish what you start (including tidying up). A half-done job just ends up back on her to-do list, which she isn't going to appreciate.
3. Make sure it's a job she hates, finds boring, or isn't likely to have strong feelings about.
4. Never, ever, mess with her systems. If you can't work it out, don't improvise. And don't even think of trying to improve it without her consent.
5. Taking full responsibility is a big vote-winner. So suggest that you take the kids out for the day so she can plan a day with a friend, then organise everything - food, clothes, activities, whatever. If it's something you don't do regularly, make a list of what you need, and follow it. However...
6. Don't be over-sensitive about asking. A few well-judged questions will reassure a woman far more than bravado. Do you really think you can fool her, anyway?
7. Don't do a job you'd normally do anyway (but don't get round to) and present it as a gift. She's unlikely to appreciate it in quite the way you want.
Buy-in hero: find someone else's services
You can buy in almost anything. You can find someone to walk the dog, organise the photos, do the paperwork, arrange your social life. You can find someone to find someone to walk the dog. Or find someone to find someone to find.... ok, you get it.
1. Choose something she doesn't enjoy doing. Tip: that might not be the same as what you don't like doing. You might rather put your head down the toilet than take on the supermarket, but she might quite enjoy the escape, while planning holidays makes her want to blast every flight comparison site sky-high. The things she puts off or that put her in a bad mood are a good clue.
2. Present it as time for her, not for the service itself. So don't say, 'I know you hate ironing, so I've found someone to do it.' Do say, 'I know you'd like more time for yourself, and I know how much time the ironing takes and how much you hate it, so here's some time off for you to do something more fun'.
3. General time vouchers are great, from companies that offer a whole range of services (such as my company, Time Wizard). That way she can choose what jobs she wants to use it for.
Women are notoriously bad at accepting help, and given half a chance will find something else to do. To get the full benefit of giving her time, persuade her to take the equivalent time off. Don't dictate, though - while your idea of perfect time off might be a night in the pub, hers might be an extra yoga class, an evening of The West Wing or a half-marathon. Just encourage her to use it for herself.
Finally, on that hero status promise. What you've done is brilliant. But don't expect over-the-top gratitude, particularly if it's about you doing something she regularly does. That doesn't mean she doesn't appreciate it. And you can bet that she'll be singing your praises to her friends, which means you get hero status there, too. Result.
At Time Wizard we take on your to-do list, from decluttering to booking holidays. Give a Time Wizard voucher, and you're giving time that can be used flexibly and intelligently. We work remotely and in-person (London and some other areas). Every voucher comes with our free one-hour list consultation, to see how we can best help, and a money-back guarantee if you or your partner decide it's not the right thing.
Follow Joanna Pieters on Twitter: www.twitter.com/joannapieters