Have zero expectations? Else, be explicit about what you want. DH takes me at face value if I "don't mind" or "don't want anything", so need to say "I want X". Although there was the year he bought v lovely necklace as a surprise, so there is hope . Problem would be if, like you, I actually did mind and wanted a surprise.
Console yourself that someone, somewhere, (ie me) is getting nothing whatsoever because her husband has decided that Christmas is too expensive.... though he is still nursing the hangover and £££ bill from taking his entire team out to dinner two nights ago.
He can't even panic-buy something at the last minute because he left his cash card at home today. So even though he works next to a big shopping centre with lots of lovely luxurious shops in it, I will be getting the £10 salad bowl that I bought myself and wrapped myself to prevent the scenario where I have nothing to unwrap and burst into tears and ruin Christmas.
Sorry, I do feel your pain. The birthday/Christmas double-whammy must be particularly bad. You are right that it's the thought that counts, but a badly-chosen gift indicates no thought, which is why it is painful, and a series of badly-chosen gifts can make you wonder if someone actually knows you at all.
there is the snowball - write yourself some 'favour vouchers' - eg a maorning's shopping without children, a day at a spa, breakfast in bed, a cooked dinner by husband - and then get DH to sign them. think how lovely they will be to have to use during the year!
i am in the 'write a list, be exact, consider ordering it yourself'. the dog also used to respond to this sort of thing he got me a great washbag one year...
Just keep thinking about the gifts you will buy for yourself with the money you get back from curious gifts he buys you. Be a bit drunk too, that can help to make things more merry.
Next year do what I do; I go online shopping and compile a helpful email with links of all lovely thing I would be chuffed to receive on Christmas day from DP and then send it to him. He has a choice of what he would like to give me and there's still an element of surprise for me because I don't know which one he will choose.
My Mum buys her own gifts from Dad. She could count how many gifts he has bought for her on one hand. She had 2 sisters to give her surprise each, and of course me once I was old enough. I think it is aweful. I hve dh who does manage some things himself and is fairly good, but, I have also bought a couple of things quietly for myself. (massive roasting tray ) <weird person I am>
DP is insisting on buying me something to open tomorrow. He and I have had a rough patch recently and tbh, I really thought this was a 'thank you for supporting me, I love you' type gift. He just called in a flap and said he couldn't find me anything. I text him days ago with a list of ideas. I give up! He also hasn't bought his Father's Partner anything. He was told to buy a big box of chocs. How flipping difficult is it? In future I'll be buying all the presents. Hopefully I wont need the 'special' gift next year. <disclaimer: I am pg and emotional today, sorry!>
oh don't worry pipplin, it will get better. one year i got a pasta maker (as if i haven't got enough to do!). luckily he saw the funny side. tell him to go to thorntons, and then to boots for you. send him to the chanel counter (or wherever you fancy a boxed gift set from).
at least he is trying - my father never bought anything till i was old enough to remind him.