I’ve heard from more than a few readers recently who are feeling resentful after being in a relationship where they feel that they gave and gave and gave and that they got nothing or very little ‘back’. Leaving more than a sour taste in their mouthes, they feel ‘owed’ and even lose sleep ruminating over whether someone else will reap the benefit of their ‘investment’.

In truth, the area of investment into relationships is very shady territory. Just like in my last post where I explained how when people are confronted with what they know to be at best inappropriate, and at worst downright dangerous carry-on in their relationship, that they increase their trust, you will step up your level of investment when it feels like you’re on a crumb relationship diet.

It’s like “Hmmm, this relationship isn’t panning out how I expected. I could fold but instead I’m going to ramp up the level of my investment so that when they realise how much I love them and that I’m more than good enough, that they’ll match me.”

The trouble with working hard at a greatly imbalanced relationship is that of course it’s going to feel like incredibly hard work and a huge investment of your energy, because it’s like putting your bucket down an empty well repeatedly and hoping that water will come back up. Or trying to break concrete with a plastic shovel. At its worst when you’re actually in a relationship where the person is busting up your boundaries left, right, and centre, it’s like peeing into the wind – it all comes back at you in a rather unpleasant manner.

Relationships are 100:100 – you never have to feel like you’ve busted up your back, contorted yourself into a pretzel, or sold yourself down the river if you 1) arrive to your relationships as an equal and if you 2) only remain in your relationships when it’s mutual. If you feel ‘owed’ it’s because someone left some of their effort on the table.

Once you start ‘topping up’ the other party like a Pay As You Go Relationship, or doing things with a view to triggering their fountain of love, or even doing all of their effort for them, of course you’re going to feel like you’re ‘owed’ because in recognising that there’s supposed to be two of you in this, when all is said and done, it looks like the other party has reaped the benefit of your over investment.

When people tell me that they’ve given someone a roof over their head, money out of their back pocket, cooked, cleaned, turned a blind eye, taken them back repeatedly, ‘overlooked’ what they shouldn’t, and basically been incredibly indispensable across the board, I hear where they’re coming from, not least because I’ve been there…but, and there is a but…aside from some of these things being silent contracts with uncommunicated expectations, sometimes we do this stuff to substitute for really stretching ourselves.

If may seem easier to pander to their every need and even fix their problems, because if you strip it down to the basics of mutual love, care, trust, respect, shared values and intimacy, commitment, progression, balance, and consistency, it would cause you to realise your fear of being vulnerable and ‘risking’ yourself plus you’d come up short from the other party.

You can focus on their problems and lack of ‘matching’ and then remind yourself that you’re ‘there’, that you ‘love’ them, that you’ve suffered the most for this person and that it takes someone special to put up with some of the stuff that you have.

If it was a question of how much you ‘suffer’ for someone’s love, we’d all be shackled to assclowns. Pain is not love. Forget love against the odds or ‘sacrificing yourself’ – that’s bullshit! If you’re ‘suffering’, you should be exiting.

If it was a question of how much you love someone, you wouldn’t need their input because in theory you could say “I love this person to infinity and beyond!” and qualify yourself for the relationship and their ‘love’ based on what you perceive to be this grand love. Unfortunately we’re not very objective when we consider ourselves in the love equation and may have very unhealthy ideas about what constitutes love.

In the new edition of Mr Unavailable and the Fallback Girl, I talk about being an indispensable overgiver, where I explain:

“I’ve heard from many indispensable Buffers who basically cook, clean, babysit, chauffeur, and nursemaid uncommitted men. This is excessive. In a healthy relationship, he’ll prioritise having shared values and mutual love, care, trust, and respect over your housekeeping and other abilities.

Focus on getting your relationship in order and addressing issues. Being indispensable will not address your problems. Don’t substitute taking an active role in your relationship and being emotionally available with doing stuff like cooking, cleaning, etc., because they’re not one and the same thing. A man who has one or both feet out of the relationship and has emotional and/or legal ties elsewhere will lose respect for you while availing himself of the fringe benefits of a woman that just doesn’t know when to step back. If you did, you’d soon see where this relationship really was, and ultimately, why do you need to run yourself into the ground?”

People only talk about ‘investments’, feeling ‘owed’, what the other party ‘isn’t’, and only have a sense of what they’re doing and essentially keep tabs, in unhealthy relationships. If you become too focused on what you’re ‘giving’, it ceases to be wholehearted – it becomes The Stuff I Do To Provoke You Into Giving Back What I Want. That’s not giving to them; that’s giving to you albeit via a very convoluted and painful route.

If you’ve ever given someone a home, material goods, money etc with the idea being (even if you didn’t quite verbalise it), that the person would ‘reward’ your generosity with a relationship, you’ve likely already discovered that this isn’t what happens and you’re probably out of pocket too. Hard as this may be to hear, the most they owe you is a thank you, some respect (although not a given), and potentially rent or monetary payback, not a relationship.

If you ‘give’ to drive a relationship that doesn’t exist in the way that you hope and expect it to, you’re getting your relationship action back to front. Establish the relationship first and ensure that it’s mutual and co-pilotted. If you’re giving to provoke a match, you’ll wind up bankrupt, emotionally and possibly literally.

You don’t have a ‘claim’ on an ex or even all your exes – they don’t owe you their better selves, just like if and when you make positive changes to your own life, much as an ex might try, they don’t have the right to collect what they feel they’re owed.

We have to invest ourselves into relationships – it comes with the territory. If we don’t put ourselves in, we’re out. The key is 1) choosing healthy relationships and 2) knowing what our deal breakers are so that we fold when the relationship ‘deal’ can’t continue. If you don’t do the due diligence, ignore code amber and reds, or you then stall to trust yourself and make decisions, you’ll end up knee deep in an unhealthy investment trying to ‘recoup’ what you’re ‘owed’.

When you do feel like you’re owed, it’s confirmation that your relationship isn’t or wasn’t mutual. It means it’s either time to walk or, if the relationship is now over, confirmation that it’s right to be over, because if you feel owed, and you stay, you’re just going to end up feeling more owed.

Your thoughts?

If you have a history of spending too much time hanging around in an unhealthy relationship, check out my book and ebook Mr Unavailable and the Fallback Girl in my bookshop.

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