Growing up, I often heard the advice “Relationships are about give and take”. Years on, and after hearing thousands of stories, I’ve realised that we’ve taken this too literally. It’s as if we think that one person exists to give and the other to take. In reality, relationships need to be mutual. When they are, it doesn’t feel like ‘giving’ and ‘taking’ because there are healthy boundaries and a shared agenda.

When we remind ourselves that “Relationships are about give and take”, it feeds this idea that relationships require ‘sacrifice’. There’s also the implication that if we give, the other party will take but that they will also give back so that we get to take. Like we’re taking turns or something. Of course, this isn’t how our relationships work in practice. In fact, when a relationship isn’t mutual, someone ends up being an overgiver and overcompensating. They essentially give to receive or sacrifice themselves so that the other person will step up. They’ll increase their ‘efforting’ to create a tipping point where the other party–The Taker, the ‘beneficiary’–switches from taking to giving.

Relationships function and flourish on mutuality and intimacy, not ‘taking turns’.

When there’s a heavy focus on “give and take”, we can’t help but fall into the trap of keeping score. We can’t trust because we’re afraid we’re not going to get it back. We fear that we’ll get screwed over. Keeping score, though, always leads to tension, friction and resentment because we’re aware of what we’ve been, done and given. In fact, we feel the need to remind ourselves that “relationships are about give and take” to rationalise our efforts or someone’s taking and expectations of us. That’s how we wind up downplaying our needs, desires, expectations, feelings and opinions. Next thing, we feel neglected, not good enough and taken advantage of.

We sacrifice ourselves when we don’t have healthy boundaries around giving. Instead of an autonomous give, we give from a place of obligation, fear or resentment. We also exploit ourselves and others when we don’t have healthy boundaries around taking.

Intimacy says “I’m willing to be vulnerable and give and receive from a place of genuinely being myself”. We have to trust in ourselves and the other party from a place of understanding our shared values and agenda and our own boundaries. If we’re being and taking responsibility for ourselves, though, we won’t have a hidden agenda. We won’t exploit ourselves (or allow others to) in the name of being in a relationship. We’ll know and express our limits and learn from those times when we don’t. We’ll allow ourselves to receive so that we don’t fall into the role of Giver and make the other Taker. As a result, there won’t be load of hoarded resentments from feeling that we gave too much. There will be a mutual awareness and appreciation of what each has given and received.

In mutual relationships, there’s genuine love, care, trust and respect. Each person is able to give and take because they’re both present and value themselves as much as the other. As a result, each person is aware of what they’re being, doing, giving and taking (or willing to become more aware when they haven’t been). They focus on the net result of being and growing together.

Are you ready to stop silencing and hiding yourself in an attempt to ‘please’ or protect yourself from others? My book, The Joy of Saying No: A Simple Plan to Stop People Pleasing, Reclaim Boundaries, and Say Yes to the Life You Want (Harper Horizon), is out now.

The Joy of Saying No by Natalie Lue book cover. Subtitle: A simple plan to stop people pleasing, reclaim boundaries, and say yes to the life you want.
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