The gift of giving is often spoken about and encouraged; the art of receiving, less so. There are so many ways to give and receive, beyond actual physical items or gifts. Time, energy, and space are all part of the equation and play significant roles in relationship interactions.
Giving is often glorified in relationships, although taking is actually an integral part of the relationship dynamic as well. In fact, it is a necessary component of the ‘give and take’, (otherwise it would be ‘give and give’ and if everyone wants to give, who is left to take what is being offered?). There cannot be a ‘give’ without a ‘take’; they go hand-in-hand. Still, it seems people are more reluctant to accept from others and would rather be on the giving end. In a recent poll I did on my Instagram page, 87% of respondents said they found it more challenging to receive than to give.
If you take a moment to think of character traits related to the words ‘giving’ and ‘taking’, what comes to mind?
Giving may be associated with descriptions such as generous, kind, and thoughtful.
Taking is more commonly connected to annoying, needy, perhaps even selfish, and evokes the idea of the giver losing out by giving.
Now take a moment to consider the word receiving. Receiving, in contrast to taking, evokes connotations of gracefully opening up to accept another’s offering. One might imagine being enveloped or blanketed by love. Simply by reframing the idea of ‘taking’ to one of ‘receiving’, can make this concept more palatable.
Signs that you are resistant to receiving can include:
•Struggling to ask for your needs to be met.
•Downplaying or denying the need for assistance.
•Reassuring people that you are fine, when in fact you need support.
Why is receiving so important, anyway? If you feel strong and capable enough to do it on your own, why not push yourself and do what needs to be done?
Sari, a 49 year old homemaker, shared her feelings of love, joy, and resentment surrounding her married children’s week-long holiday visits to her home. “I adore my children and cherish our time together. Inevitably, though, after a couple of days, even though I’m not asking for or accepting help, I start feeling like my efforts are kind of taken for granted. I am taking care of everybody. I’m doing everything I can to make sure they can relax and bond. They don’t seem to realize how much I am doing and I get really frustrated. I end up snapping at them, sometimes yelling at my husband.”
Some people may give up of themselves in an attempt to maintain a relationship.
Sari felt that in order to be a good mother, she would not ask her children to step up. Sari would stoically shoulder all of the duties of maintaining a busy household without asking or accepting help. Ultimately this led to her carrying a lot of resentment. Her needs went unstated and thus, unfulfilled. Instead of enhancing the relationship as she had hoped, by not opening herself up to receiving, she felt even more discontent and discomfort. The narrative behind our drive to give and receive needs to be examined carefully to ensure it is truly within our best interest.
Tension and resentment can build up slowly over time. Even if you think you can handle something, after a while the feelings snowball into something bigger, at which point it becomes even more challenging to address. Instead of speaking up the first time, now it becomes a matter of rocking the boat, of really shaking up a dynamic that you seemed complacent with for so long.
Chaya and Avi had been married for 9 years when they realized that their relationship wasn’t on the emotionally connected level that they wanted it to be. Avi, a friendly, energetic person, presented as a kind and loving dad. Chaya is a warm and independent woman with a laid back vibe. They were seeking guidance on how to deepen and enhance their relationship. Exploring the pattern in their relationship revealed that Chaya and Avi each had their own expectations of how to manage chores, children, and self care, among other daily routines. They had gotten into the habit of doing what worked for each of them- which sometimes worked out but more often resulted in frustration.
In one study (Finkel, Simpson, and Eastwick, 2017), integration was identified as one of the core principles of relationship function, explaining that opportunities and motivations for interdependence tend to facilitate cognitive, affective, motivational, or behavioral merging between partners.
This highlights the importance of the ability to both give AND receive in a relationship.
Giving and receiving from one another felt uncomfortable at first. Over time, Chaya and Avi became more comfortable pulling back and creating space for the other to step in and fill each other’s needs. This allowed them to bond, to emotionally connect on a deeper level, truly trusting the other to be there in a way that feels secure and supportive. The giving generates feelings of pride in being able to meet the needs of someone else, and the receiving is what allows one to feel this.
Tzippy, a friendly, gregarious 32 year old, had a large circle of acquaintances. Still, she shared feeling quite lonely inside. Tzippy enjoyed her social life, yet yearned for a really deep, true connection with somebody. Describing a recent event, Tzippy shared, “I was really under the weather and my friend Rivki offered to come by with a meal, but I didn’t want to bother her. It wouldn’t sit right with me for her to go out of her way for me.”
While Tzippy did want to develop her relationships, she had difficulty accepting gestures of caring. Her narrative played out in thinking of accepting offerings as a sign of weakness or neediness. When she learned to relax her resistance and be open to sharing her needs as well as receiving, the relationships that she had been waiting to deepen finally had a chance. When Tzippy was able to show up authentically in her relationships, they changed for the better. This change was not easy. It was deeply ingrained in Tzippy to be fiercely independent, to not ask and not accept from others. Self-worth, gratitude, examining the impacts of past behaviors and learning the benefits of receiving were a big part of Tzippy’s therapy process.
If you notice parts of yourself in any of these examples, you may want to ask yourself
•When did this begin? Have I always been this way?
•Where does this resistance to receive come from? Is it cultural, familial, individual?
•What am I gaining by refusing to accept an offering?
These questions may help you explore and understand the thoughts, feelings, and emotions connected to the give and take in a relationship.