“Oh no, I just cannot take this call….” You read the caller id flashing across your screen, and your heart sinks. Right now, you just cannot handle doing her yet another favor. You swipe from right to left, banishing your “friend” to voicemail hell, feeling guilty, but relieved.
We all are givers. We are all receivers. It’s part of the cycle and dynamic of life. Being a spouse, parent, teacher or student are just some small examples of this flow in play. Balancing the scale of giving and taking is what makes our relationships healthy, fulfilling and pleasurable.
But have you ever found yourself totally out of whack? Do you sometimes feel, in certain relationships, that you are constantly on the receiving end? Or vice-versa — that you are always the one putting out, and waiting for the other to reciprocate? Not only does this throw you off balance, but it doesn’t feel good, and can lead to the end of your friendship.
I read a great book by Paul Edward, in which he discusses three primary types of relationships, and the kinds of giving associated with each one.
- Receiving relationship: This would include a student, child, layperson or customer, where your primary function is to receive. In this dynamic, your job is to be a receiver of knowledge, love & care, or services.M
- Mutual relationship: A balance of giving & receiving. This would include a spouse, co-worker and friend.
- Giving relationship: Here, you are expected to do the heavy lifting. This would be a parent, a professional providing services, or teacher.
To be fair, none of these relationships have hard boundaries. Perhaps most difficult to navigate is the “mutual relationship”, where we often play out all three roles. When one is ill, for example, they become the receiver while their spouse and friends become the givers. And of course there are many times you may find yourself lending an ear for hours on end when your loved one needs your attention.
Balance is the Key
But giving goes bad when your roles within these relationships become distorted and out of whack. It is not the job or place of a student to educate the teacher. And, it is totally inappropriate for your therapist to ask you for support on an issue they are facing. And asking your BFF to pick up your dry-cleaning, make you dinner and take over your carpool is totally off when you are feeling fine and have time to do it yourself. In a mutual relationship, nobody is keeping score, but attention to balance is important.
When examining your attachments, pay attention to the role you play. Is your giving and receiving in alignment with the type of partnership you want? Are you pulling your own weight? Or are you playing the rescuer and smothering your partner with constant giving? This could lead up to resentment and put your relationship in distress. But rather than throw the baby out with the bathwater, perhaps a minor tune-up in this dynamic can restore balance, allowing your relationships to flourish.