A common complaint from many women is their certainty that they give more in their friendships than they receive. This perceived give-and-take imbalance has many possible reasons. Chief among them? We are all wired to give in different ways.
With the exchange of money, we know how much is spent and received. In relationships, few things have such tangible and agreed-upon value. When one woman continuously initiates keeping in touch with her friend and the other tends to be the one who does most of the listening during the call, who is to say which one gave more? We often judge others based on how we give, not seeing what we have received.
We're Wired To Give In Different Ways
As a life coach, there are multiple inventories I use to help people become more self-aware. Stepping into any paradigm designed to help you see your uniqueness also inherently reminds you that others must be unique, too.
For example, Marcus Buckingham, in his book "Find Your Strongest Life," suggests that we all have a lead role that makes us happiest and strongest. You can find out for free which of the nine roles is your primary: Advisor, Caretaker, Creator, Equalizer, Influencer, Motivator, Pioneer, Teacher or Weaver. An Advisor may feel as though everyone always calls for her opinion, while a Caretaker may be able to best see what needs to be done to relieve stress from someone. An Equalizer will be the one who tells you the truth, while the Motivator will be the one who cheers you on.
There are some actions that you will do naturally, easily, repeatedly. The same is true for your friends.
Six Principles To Increase Your Relationship Balance:
- Never give more than you can afford. Let's state the obvious up front: it's your responsibility to give in ways that don't drain you. Financial advisors would caution you to never give a loan that you couldn't afford to lose. I'd cover a new friend's coffee if she didn't have cash with her, but I wouldn't agree to a loan over $20. With a friend with whom trust has been built, I'd gladly risk more. Whether it's with acts of service or emotional availability, don't give any gift that will leave you feeling resentful if it's not reciprocated in a specific way. Ask yourself whether this is a gift you're giving (no strings attached, no expectations), or whether it's a loan (hoping for a payback)? Be judicious with who you give to, how much you give and why. If you repeatedly give more than you receive and feel bitter about it, you may want to explore why you go beyond your limits.
- Expand your circle of friends. We all give in different ways -- it's why I'm a big proponent of having several close friends. We get different needs met and can appreciate how others give to us better when we can see the differences. You'll need less from any one friend when you feel supported by several. When you have a friend whose shoulder you can cry on, you can better appreciate the other friend who simply makes you laugh. The best way to feel more full? Receive from more women! This is especially true if you feel that one friend keeps disappointing you. It's your responsibility to build a circle of friends around you, not her obligation to be everything you need.
- Acknowledge that balance doesn't mean being identical. We not only give in different ways, but we also give at different times. Going through my divorce, I monopolized more than 50 percent of many conversations with friends. And the roles have been reversed at various times. Additionally, I have one friend who impressively always invites and schedules time with my husband and me. I don't reciprocate evenly in that area, but I've provided her coaching, held her heart through pain and been a safe place to process life out loud with someone who cares. We don't give 50/50 in every area, but it's important we both feel it's mutual overall.
- Bask in the ways you receive. So you give a lot. Congratulations. Make sure you notice what you're receiving, too! She may not be great at remembering your birthdays, but does she love in other ways? Why were you drawn to her initially? Make sure you take time to look for all the ways she might be giving that you don't initially see. Pull out a pad of paper and list everything you can think of that she does for you. This includes things like easily forgiving you, brainstorming your business with you, encouraging you to be an individual, standing up for you, making you laugh, remembering to ask about your mom, etc. Be sure you're receiving what's being given!
- Continue to give your best. If you're good at scheduling time together, then do it. Don't be shy! If you're good at listening longer, asking better questions and validating feelings, then give and do it freely. If you're the one who remembers birthdays and buys presents for her kids, then do it with joy, harboring no resentment. If you're able to pay for meals together, tell her that it's your privilege to give to the friendship in this way. Love on her in the ways that are easy and natural for you, knowing that is your contribution to the friendship you share.
- Learn how to give and take more meaningfully. Knowing that we all tend to give in the ways that we most wish others would give to us, look for clues about what matters most to your friends. We certainly have love languages that are most natural for us, but for the people we love, we should also try to give in the ways that seem to matter to them. With close friends, we can also tell them what they do that means the most to us. We can use our energy more efficiently and effectively if we can increase our awareness about what speaks to our hearts the most. Learning to ask for what we need from those around us is a skill worth practicing.
Balance in a relationship means not only that you need to give wisely, but also that you may need to look around to see how you're also receiving more than you might notice. May you find joy in your give-and-take.
Which of the principles is hardest to do, in your opinion? What other advice would you add?
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Shasta Nelson's primary roles are Motivator and Influencer, which she gives weekly in her women's friendship column. Click "Fan" at the top of this page to subscribe and be notified of her posts!