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Relationship Problems | Give and Take

Updated on September 12, 2012
Giving and giving back can fill our lives.
Giving and giving back can fill our lives. | Source

Rules of Reciprocation

Stop for a moment and reflect on your favorite people. How did they come to hold such valuable real estate in your heart? Chances are, your reasons involve reciprocation. On the other hand, if you feel jaded or embittered about relationships, it could be due to not recognizing how important reciprocity is for maintaining them.

Gifts, compliments, and favors all communicate something about how the giver feels about the recipient. Social psychologists have long acknowledged that reciprocity is a form of social currency. It "buys" affection, loyalty, and admiration when we give back to those who have given to us. Negative reciprocation, or vengeance, can harm our relationships with others.Today the idea of reciprocating kind gestures has lost some of its importance.

We are taught to give gifts without expecting anything in return. While noble, this altruistic concept can hide a basic truth: people who care for us want us to care for them, too.

When a gentleman kindly pays for his date's dinner, he doesn't expect her to take him out to eat and pay the bill next weekend. In fact, he might believe that men should pay for dates. Period. Nonetheless, if he continues to pay for dates and his lucky lady doesn't do anything for him, he's going to believes she's taking advantage of him. Nobody, including our generous gent, wants to feel used.

If she bakes him cookies or buys a book she thinks he'll enjoy, he'll feel appreciated. She will have reciprocated his efforts without mimicking him.

Too Much Taking, Not Enough Giving

Stale relationships involving individuals who feel as if they're being taken for granted typically involve a partner's failure to reciprocate well. Often, we mistake gifts and compliments as being altruistic rather than recognizing the giver's emotional needs for reciprocation. Men and women are equally guilty of letting their gratitude slide, and it can show up in many ways:

- A lackluster sex life

- Frequent arguments about who does more in the relationship

- Lower self-esteem in one or both partners

- Depression

- Lack of affection

Fortunately, reviving a lackluster relationship is pretty easy once you get past the hard part - recognizing our own ingratitude. To test whether you're highly skilled at reciprocation, ask yourself these questions:

1. When someone does something that benefits me, do I say thank you?

2. After thanking someone for a compliment or gift, do I make it a point to follow up with actually doing something equally nice for them?

3. Do I make sure not to let my efforts get derailed by distractions?

If you answered yes to all three questions, you're doing terrific. Even one "no" response means your relationships may be suffering. Being proactive about positive reciprocation can help you improve family interactions, your social life, and even also have a positive effect on customer relations and friendships.

Here are some ideas of things you can do to start showing your appreciation for another person's gift or something nice they've done for you, but this list is just a starting point. Making reciprocity a daily part of your life will result in many other ideas.

- Take them to lunch or dinner.

- Send them a "thank you" card, even if it's your spouse.

- Bake them a treat or prepare a nice meal for them.

- Purchase an item they will like.

- Compliment them publicly. Often.

- Write a poem that honors them.

- Take care of a chore they dislike doing.

- Hire someone else to do something you know they don't like to do.

- Hire someone for something they'll love - a babysitter so they can have a night out, a painter to paint their front porch, or a local teen who can mow their lawn or shovel their sidewalk.

- Send flowers to their work site.

- Purchase a gift like the ones shown above that's on par with what they've done for you.


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