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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, January 9, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 02
INSIGHTS & PERSPECTIVES: RELATIONSHIP INVENTORY - RECIPROCITY
Section One
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INSIGHTS & PERSPECTIVES: RELATIONSHIP INVENTORY - RECIPROCITY

by Michael Raitt - SGN Contributing Writer

Reciprocity comes from the word 'reciprocate' and reciprocate is a verb - it means to give back. In adult relationships, reciprocity is about how well each gives back to the other. It is a dynamic of back-and-forth and both parties participate to varying degrees. Love (romantic or platonic) fuels this dynamic. It is always important to look at how well you give back to those who give to you.

Relationships get into trouble when there is no reciprocity or one feels that there is some kind of unfairness in what is being reciprocated. There is an important quality that becomes an inherent flaw if it is not considered in the give-and-take of a relationship. The 'value' of what is being given back in a dynamic is where problems can occur.

It is a rare relationship (friend, family, partner, spouse) where everything is equal and what is given is returned with the exact value. In other words, it is very common for people in relationships to have unequal standing in one way or another. An easy example, in romantic relationships/marriages, is when one makes more money than another. Other examples where value exists - and which are less tangible than money - are in areas such as time and workload. How often have you heard something like, 'I do all the dishes, laundry, dusting, and clean the cat box while he sits and plays on his phone!' This is an expression of a value being put on something someone is doing.

The first step in making sure that the dynamic of reciprocity doesn't become a problem is to recognize the inequitable nature that exists in the relationship. If I make more money, I may pick up the tab for dinner more often or pick up a larger share of the bill from time-to-time. If my partner is working 16-hour days at work and I have 2 weeks off, I may do more of the housework.

To this point, people have to be able to be flexible in the relationship. This means that as circumstances change, so does how and in what ways reciprocity occurs. Using the examples from the paragraph above: If my partner's work schedule settles down, he may take on more duties at home or if he gets a raise, he may contribute more money when and where it is necessary.

Having rigid expectations in relationships prevent people from being flexible with their give-and-take. If I've always picked up the dinner tab and it becomes expected that I do, even when circumstances change, then resentment is going to creep into the relationship. It is times like these when it starts to feel unfair and if these feelings of unfairness are not dealt with in the relationship, problems are certain to arise.

In adult relationships (where neither individual is physically or mentally dependant in any way) reciprocity is essential. One should never be giving most, if not all, of the time and another should not be taking most, if not all, of the time. If you have a dynamic like this with someone else, I would encourage you to look closely at yourself and your motivations to give all the time or take all the time. 'Unconditional love' is often the excuse that is used to perpetuate these dynamics. I am sorry that I have to smash some ideals but 'unconditional love' does not exist in adult relationships. Love is conditional because we want something back from the person we have given to.

If you feel resentment in any of your relationships, look to see how the dynamic of reciprocity is between you and the other. Discuss expectations and ensure that you are adjusting to changing circumstances. Don't be a giver all of the time and don't be a taker all of the time.

Michael Raitt, MA LMHC, is a Therapist and a Contributing Writer to the SGN. He writes a bi-monthly column in the SGN. If you would like to comment on this column, ask a question you'd like him to write about, or suggest another topic of interest, please contact him at Michael.Raitt@comcast.net

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