Paying Attention
Bill McDonald’s Website Newsletter
October 2007 - Volume 07, No. 7
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Givers and Takers in Relationships Part 4 of 4 - Resolving the Issues

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 is synergy.

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.

    3) A third outcome involves the dissolution of the relationship.

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 therapy.

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

Pay Attention!

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Bill McDonald
Fenton, Michigan

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