This month’s newsletter comes in
four parts - published weekly through this month. The overall topic is
Givers and Takers in Relationships
First let me revisit the semantics of this series. One
consideration by some readers is that giving and taking balance each other.
That is not true. Giving and receiving are a balance - a healthy
balance, which is based on the mutual ability to do both. Over-giving
and taking are what I call a “splitting,” a bipolarity,
an unhealthy balancing where the center is empty. The outcome is abuse
- both of the other person and the self.
I have also alluded (in part I) that the one healthy balance
is between a giver and a giver (assuming that only a giver can be a healthy
receiver, and vice versa). So the ideal resolution of a giver/taker relationship
is that both become healthy givers.
It is a purpose of early development that children learn
the give and take necessary for “civilized” adult social life.
It is the purpose of adult development that an individual gain
the ability to live in relationship with others, domestic and social,
in a way that both the individual, the family, and the larger community
are enhanced. The key here is to learn the healthy giving of self
for the sake of others. (Then, at the end, at our dying, our task
is to have learned to give away, let go of, everything.)
As my client couples hear from me again and again, the
secret of successful marriages/relationships, is not that each gives
only to the other, but that each gives to the relationship, and
the relationship, in turn, will feed each partner. Serve the marriage
and the marriage will serve you many times over. Feed the relationship
and the relationship will feed each of you many times over. Both the state
and the church strongly support marriages, because both know that a healthy
marriage is more than the sum of its parts. And a healthy marriage will
give more to the larger community than it takes. An operative term here
Givers have in mind, by nature, the well-being of both
the self and others. Takers, in turn, can have in mind only their own
well-being (though most will insist otherwise). That’s the crux
of the problem - that giver/taker relationships are essentially abusive.
So, in the real world, what resolutions are possible?
Let me suggest four options.
1a) The Taker must stop, and begin to realize
his/her abuse of others. Only then can he/she begin the deeper work
on self by which to grow toward becoming a healthy Giver.
1b) The Over-giver must begin to gain a fuller
self from which can come healthy balanced giving.
This resolution is the desired high outcome of marital
or couple therapy. It is a challenge to work with both parties for their
personal growth and development. To accomplish this, I often work with
them separately, sometimes seemingly in different directions with each
other. But with each I will work toward that personal sense of self that
is able to transform an over-giver and a taker into enough of a healthy
giver to make the marriage/relationship able to begin "living from within."
Then I hope that new "life" will continue to grow them together into the
giver/giver relationship that will bring them the mature happiness promised
in the language of the wedding ceremony itself.
2) Another outcome is that the Giver, even when no longer
an over-giver, will keep on giving to his/her taker-partner, in hopes
that the love, or true caring, involved in this sacrifice will someday
elicit a transformation in, and true caring from, the taker-partner.
This is the path of sacrificial love - maintaining a relationship
where the giving grows in maturity, yet insists on little in return -
except the hope that the other person may someday change for his
or her own sake. And for some specifically religious persons,
that hope is functional because it extends beyond this lifetime.
Commonly the over-giver develops into a more mature giver,
perhaps with the assistance of good psychotherapy. But concurrent with
that development, the original attraction to the taker-partner
diminishes or dies. And in response to this loss of attraction, the giver
decides to leave the relationship, and hence leaving an abuse that no
longer has sufficient relationship value.
That's why, in couple therapy, I'll often work with the
taker-partner through changes toward a healthier attraction foundation
to help 'keep the interest' of the partner while at the same time working
at the personality issues that constitute the essential abuse of giver/taker
relationships. Sometimes the success of this double-barreled approach
becomes evident long after the couple's work with me - assuming that they
have decided to stay together. The "work" must continue long after the
I make it clear at the outset of my work with couples
that it’s not my work to “save” the marriage/relationship,
but rather to work with both parties so each can see most clearly what
is going on, and what changes can be made, so that a decision about
the relationship can be made with the most input and information. From
the beginning I honor the maxim that it takes two to enter a relationship,
and only one to dissolve it. That’s always the risk of human
love from the beginning. When I fall in love with a person, that person
can (a) also die before me, or (b) change his or her mind. Love essentially
carries no other guarantees - promises, yes; guarantees, no.
(4) There is a fourth outcome option, as well. Simply
put, it involves two people living in mutual unhappiness, with no real
changes, for the rest of their natural lives.
This is, sadly, a most common outcome. It’s easiest.
Family and church and state often seem to encourage it. And it fits, if
you both share a belief that happiness is rare and not personally deserved.
And the end result is frequently that you may even be buried together.
That, my friends, concludes this series on givers and takers in relationships.
Hopefully I have given you some insight by which to live your life more
richly. And in honor of that, I urge you further, to