We are led to believe that all great relationships require give and take. While this is true, it can get confusing when you find yourself in a relationship where you are giving way too much without getting much in return.
I remember when I worked with college students, I counseled one super bright and just plain pleasant guy. He came to see me to talk about his stress and anxiety. Long story short, it was all related to his long-term relationship with his girlfriend.
His stress was almost always related to not having enough time to devote to his assignments as a graduate student; he felt he was putting out sub-par work. When I asked him what was getting in the way, it was that he was spending his evenings and much of his free time throughout the day providing emotional support and comfort to his girlfriend.
He took care of her, meeting her many demands. He went above and beyond the call of duty to keep her happy, and he was paying a price for it.
Giving is good. But too much giving can lead to a severely imbalanced relationship or one person being taken advantage of.
Sometimes it’s hard to tell if it’s love or an unhealthy relationship. I want to give you a few common reasons people end up giving too much in a relationship and ways to keep them in check.
I’ve got to warn you, these require some real self-reflection. So drop your defenses and check out whether or not these apply to you:
1. You haven’t set your boundaries.
Poor boundaries can really set you up for hurt and disappointment in your relationships. When boundaries aren’t set, it is just too easy to accelerate the pace of your relationship and overlook really big red flags.
If this sounds like something you’ve gone through, you probably dive into relationships eager to take care of too much for your partner. Don’t get me wrong, these are wonderful tendencies, but too much too soon is setting you up to be potentially over-invested in the relationship before you’ve really given yourself time to get to know your partner. You know, to test out their reliability.
I want to put this out there: The most good-hearted people are often at a higher risk risk for developing a relationship with a “taker.” Good-hearted people give lots of chances, they see the best in people, and they give the benefit of the doubt.
One way to really gauge if you are in a relationship with a taker is to give a little and then sit back and see what they do with it. You are looking for something very important called, mutuality. Do they reciprocate? Or do they take and then expect more?
If there isn’t a balance of give and take, it’s time to revisit your relationship status or at the very least how much you want to continue to give. Because you are at risk of being taken advantage of.
2. You haven’t dealt with your baggage
We all have baggage. Baggage from family or even from past relationships. There is no shame there.
But if our past baggage isn’t unpacked and dealt with, then it has this way of sneaking into the present.
This was my client’s reason for being attached to a taker. He had family experiences where he was continually put into the role of the fixer, and if he wasn’t in that role he was basically invisible. Giving a lot was the way he got attention when he was young. It was having a major impact now that he was older.
This may not be your exact scenario, but there’s often a similar explanation when there are issues from the past. When we are in relationships we have needs: needs for love, attention, affirmation, validation, respect. If these needs aren’t met, they grow and become more extreme. This puts us at risk to be in a relationship with someone who takes too much or to be the one who gives too much.
If you think that you may have some issues from the past to deal with, take time to explore them. Reflect back on your past relationships and look for patterns. If you need to, get professional help.
3.You’re balancing out an extreme
Sometimes we have a quality in us that is a little bit extreme and so we end up with a partner who has quality that is the opposite extreme.
Some people are extreme givers. We like to do things for people and to take care of them. It’s in our nature. It’s an amazing quality, but it means extreme givers are at risk to end up with extreme takers. Someone who gives a lot would love to be with someone comfortable taking a lot.
At first it would seem like the giver has found in the taker someone who really appreciates their qualities. But sooner or later the giver is the only one giving. And the taker is, well, they are just taking, taking, taking.
If this sounds like you, then you need to take extra time to really get to know the person you are dating. Keep your tendency to give in check. Practice giving just a little, observing how they handle it, and watching for reciprocation.
Much of the work will be on your end. Just because they reciprocate doesn’t mean that you’ve now been cleared for unlimited giving. You will have to really work to go slowly and to give a little bit at a time.
The key is to take the time in relationships to really vet your partner and vet your own issues around giving and taking.
When a good thing goes to the extreme it becomes a not so good thing. Being a reliable partner, for example, is great, but being the only reliable partner in a relationship, is not so good.
It’s easy to say that you are just being a good partner or that your partner just really appreciates how you meet all their needs. But make sure the person you are with is meeting your needs too.
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