Reciprocity in intimate relationships

Sometimes it can feel a bit like 'tit for tat' - I gave you this, you should give me that! Most of us don't like to think about our intimate relationships in this way. We flourish in an environment where we can be generous about how we think about each other's needs, and where there is plenty of space for giving and receiving acts of love, nurturing and care in all of their many forms. But most of us do have a bottom line - the place where we say "Enough!". It may come after many months or even years of feeling like all the giving is going one way, where there seems to be a 'taken for granted' expectation that we will give and give without being entitled to receive in return. Couples and families have complex ways in which they navigate their way through this intricate web of reciprocity. It's tough, for example, where one parter has a chronic illness or disability. They may not be able to contribute financially, or be able to keep up with the physical demands of running a household. In a situation like this, their gift in exchange may be emotional - to be supportive, validating, to express gratitude and how much they value the work their partner puts into the relationship. Children are dependent on their parents too - we don't expect them to contribute to the relationship to the extent that we think a parent should. However, we may still expect them to contribute in a way that is appropriate for their age and developmental stage. When reciprocity gets too far out of balance - it is OUR responsibility to let our loved ones know that things are not OK. We need to do it in a non-blaming, non-judgemental way - but we DO need to do it. Pretending everything is OK, that the passage of time will restore the balance, may work in some situations (e.g. where there is a particular set of circumstances that are expected to change in future, such as a partner working very long hours). It will not work, though, where things are NOT expected to change in future, or where our loved one is expressing a sense of entitlement to getting more than they are giving, and that we 'should' be OK with it. It's not fair, and it's certainly not easy, but it's always up to us to act in our own best interests where we have tried unsuccessfully to persuade our partner or other family member that they need to give more in the relationship. This may mean there are some difficult decisions to be made about whether we can stay in the relationship, or with a family member - whether we need to create more distance in the relationship in order to look after our own needs and make sure we do not continue to participate in something that is not meeting our own relationship needs.

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