Taking vs. Giving in a Relationship

Dear Neil: When is it going to be my turn? My wife is busy at work during the day, then comes home and pours all of her time and energy into taking care of the children. That would be fine, except that then she’s typically too tired for me—even when I take care of the children. Our weekends produce the same outcome, for entirely different reasons.

I like spoiling my wife, and I think she likes it too. Occasionally, I take her out to eat, buy her flowers, invite her to go to concerts or performances, tell her I love her and generally try act generous to her. I am usually attentive, and I try to spoil her as much as I can.

But she’s not spoiling me back. I feel as if I’m giving to her a lot more than I’m receiving back from her, and this feeling has remained consistent over time. Can I do anything to make things more equal between us? I’m not getting spoiled enough, and it is really bothering me.

Unspoiled in San Francisco

Dear Unspoiled: When we don’t get nurtured by our mates, we don’t feel valued. If over time you don’t get back from your mate something equivalent to what you give, you will begin to feel cheated, and are likely to grow hurt, angry or bitter toward him/her.

Children require us to give, because they truly need as much time, attention, affection, energy and TLC as we can give. We don’t normally expect children to give back to us; that’s one of the functions of parenthood. But our mate is someone we expect nurturance and support from. Even as adults, we want someone to take care of us, and to nurture and pamper us every so often.

Some people are “people pleasers”, tuned in to what other people want far more than they are to their own wants and needs. They have an easy time giving in a relationship, and frequently feel selfish or guilty if they ask for much in return.

Other people are far more self focused. They are tuned into—and even hyper-vigilant about—what they want, and frequently have not paid much attention to the needs and wants of others. They are more selfish, although I do not mean to imply that they are necessarily wrong. They are just more focused on themselves, and
their own wants and needs.

There is difference between feeling as if we are a role or a function in a relationship (It’s your job to earn money, cook meals, have sex with me, etc.), versus feeling like what we give and do is considered as a gift (Thank you for earning money for us, cooking our meals, and having sex with me. I really appreciate what you’re giving, and the sacrifices that you’re making on our behalf. You’re doing a great job, and I feel closer to you because of it).

Feeling as if we are being treated like a role or function creates unhappiness and anger. Being treated by our mate as if we are a gift feels good, and helps our relationship stay strong, vital and loving.

Has your relationship turned cold and distant? Neil’s book Love, Sex, and Staying Warm can help you rekindle your passion.

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