Relationship Reciprocity

A few weeks ago, I was having a conversation with my 17-year old niece about friendships and relationships. We were discussing the give and take aspect of being in relationships and whether it’s better to give than to receive or vice versa. I said that I definitely thought it was better to give, and while she agreed, she challenged me. She said, “Yes, but if you’re in a relationship with someone, it needs to be both. There needs to be a balanced give and take or it’s not a true or healthy relationship.”

She’s right. And it got me thinking… how many relationships was I in (friendships, business partnerships, etc.) that were more one-sided than equal?

I immediately thought of at least three friendships and business relationships I was in that were one-sided. These are relationships where I was clearly the one making all the effort and not getting an equal effort from the other parties. Of course, there is a natural ebb and flow in relationships, so sometimes you will be the one doing most of the giving, and then the pendulum will swing, and you will be the one doing most of the receiving. It might not be 50-50 every day, but overall, it’s balanced. In these personal situations I referenced I looked back over at least 1-2 years and realized: Wow. If I weren’t making an effort, this relationship would not exist.

So, now what? What are you supposed to do if you realize you’re in a one-sided relationship (or three of them)?

First, evaluate whether it’s working for you.
Maybe you’re okay with how things are and don’t mind being on the giving end for extended periods of time. If so, then that’s okay. Let it ride. How do you know if it’s NOT working for you? You know if you feel off or frustrated about the relationship. If you find yourself muttering under your breath about how the person never responds, listens, understands, etc. chances are it’s not working for you. You always know based on how you feel.

Next, if it’s not working, decide what you want from the relationship.
What would make you feel better about the relationship? What do you need from the other party to bring the relationship back into balance? Decide that and then, if the relationship means something to you:

Talk to the other person about it.
Tell them how you feel. Don’t personalize it or make it an attack on them but make it about how you’re feeling based on your experience with them. How they respond to you will give you great insight into how important the relationship is to them. They may agree, and they may not; either way, let them share their perspective. It doesn’t invalidate your feelings or make you wrong, but it may give you an alternate view.

Finally, decide what’s best for you
Depending on the other person’s response to you, it may be obvious this is not a relationship that will ever be reciprocated. And, it may be the complete opposite. They may have had no idea how their behavior was impacting you. Your decision about what’s best for you and whether or not to continue putting effort into the relationship is based on communicating with them; that’s why communication is key. Then you can make an informed choice about how to proceed.

One thing to note is that I don’t suggest or promote keeping score in any relationship. That never works. What I am talking about are those overly obvious situations where you have been giving endlessly for a long period and not getting what you need and desire from the relationship in return. It’s not about keeping score. It’s about what my niece said: a balance of give and take, because, that is what makes a truly healthy and strong relationship.

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