Are You a Giver or Taker in Your Relationships? A Life Coach Offers Advice

Giving Tuesday, the global movement that takes place the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, is based on one simple idea: encouraging people to do good. 

That might mean a financial donation, volunteering your time, or an act of kindness, such as making dinner for an elderly neighbor. According to the Giving Tuesday website, “Every act of generosity counts, and everyone has something to give.”

Although the Giving Tuesday movement, which began in 2012, has tracked hundreds of millions of people who give, I have to wonder, does everyone have something to give? 

It’s an interesting question and I’m not just talking about Giving Tuesday or the holiday season, in which there is such an emphasis on giving. I’m referring to romantic relationships and a simple truth I believe: In every romantic relationship, there are two kinds of people– givers and takers. 

A couple could consist of one giver and one taker, two givers, or two takers. These dynamics essentially lay the foundation for the relationship, including its overall quality. 

For a fun and interesting conversation about givers and takers in romantic relationships, I sat down with Lisa Kaplin, Psy.D, a North Shore based executive and life coach. Kaplin said she’s had many, many conversations with her clients on this topic.

Photo courtesy of Unsplash / Shelby Deeter.

“A giver in a relationship is someone who really thinks about what the other person wants and needs,” said Kaplin, who before becoming a coach, worked as a therapist for 20 years. “A giver will think, ‘How can I make my partner’s life better in some way? A gift, a hug, listening?’ A giver is intuitive. He or she might say, ‘I know it means a lot to my partner so I’m going to learn how to ski.’”

Other examples of a giver include someone who with a spouse watches a movie or a Netflix series he or she doesn’t particularly want to watch, but does it because he or she knows the spouse will enjoy it. A giver might also read a book that his or her spouse read, for an opportunity to have an interesting discussion about it. 

A taker, on the other hand, is more focused on him or herself, wondering, ‘What’s in it for me? What do I want?’

“The taker can be self-centered,” Kaplin said. “The taker isn’t necessarily a bad person, this is just how they have learned to show up in the world. The taker might lack self-awareness.”

So, what happens when a giver ends up with a taker? According to Kaplin, the giver could be enabling the taker to take.

“The giver has allowed the taker to be a taker, and doesn’t ask for anything, so the taker just keeps taking,” she said. “What often happens is the giver gets burned out and feels like the relationship is one-sided. I hear that a lot from people who decide to get divorced.”

Kaplin said many times, the taker doesn’t realize or has no idea that the giver is unhappy. Therefore, here is her advice for the giver:

  • Look in the mirror. Ask yourself why you allowed your spouse to become such a taker. Also, are you always attracted to takers? Do you feel unworthy of being with another giver?
  • Talk to the taker. Say, “This is not OK.” Stop playing the victim, own what you want and then ask for specific things. 
  • Ask yourself why you are giving. A lot of givers give in hopes they are going to receive, and they mistakenly don’t ask for things. No one is a mind reader. Ask for what you want, but ask in a kind way.

If you think you might be a taker, Kaplin has this advice: “Start asking your partner about his or her needs, engage in conversation more, and really listen. You’ll be surprised at what even little gestures of giving can do for the health of a relationship.” 

I personally have been in relationships with takers, and I have to say, it’s not good for self-esteem. The taker can make you feel undervalued, disrespected, unimportant, and even unloved. The taker can cause you to give, give, give, and eventually lose sight of your needs and your happiness. The taker can be an energy zapper that drains you until you have nothing left to give. It can feel exhausting. 

Then there are the givers. Those dear, sweet, kind, adorable givers. Rock solid and immensely loyal, a giver makes you feel supported, adored, connected and cherished. A giver knows you inside and out. A giver gives unconditionally and from the heart. A giver lifts you up and makes you want to be the best person you can be, and a giver makes you want to give back, both to the giver and to the world. Yes, that was a love letter to my boyfriend– a true giver.

I consider myself a giver, and honestly, being with another giver can sometimes feel slightly uncomfortable, because for both, it feels more natural to give. That said, it’s a good problem to have. Two takers together, on the other hand, often leads to unhappiness, separate lives or divorce, according to Kaplin. She said truly healthy relationships are those in which both partners give and take. 

“Doesn’t it feel good to do both giving and taking? A combination is healthy,” she said. “It’s all about balance.”

I have received many emails from readers expressing that they feel disconnected from a spouse, lonely, and/or that there is no intimacy left in the relationship. My advice is that less taking and more giving is the first step towards repair. 

I’m not talking about giving a material gift, but rather giving from your heart; offering vulnerability in communicating the issues and showing a commitment to getting the relationship not just back on track, but better than ever. 

Giving in this regard isn’t easy. It takes courage to be completely honest and authentic. But, with the effort comes a big prize. In other words, it’s never too late to become a giver, and by being a giver, you might receive more in return than you ever imagined.

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Jackie Pilossoph is a former television journalist and newspaper features reporter. The author of four novels and the writer of her weekly relationship column, Love Essentially, Pilossoph is also the creator of the divorce support website, Divorced Girl Smiling. Pilossoph holds a Masters degree in journalism and lives in Chicago with her two teenagers.

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