What keeps healthy relationships going?
It’s not communication, breakfast in bed, or quality time (although those are all very good things). It’s not an even balance of date nights and curling up to watch Netflix (also a very good thing).
It’s two qualities. Two qualities that, in conjunction, help fuel healthy relationships.
No, it’s not just paying for the date. Or driving to their side of town. It’s much more than that. It’s a heart and mind mentality of ‘Give first, expect second.’ It’s you before me. It’s about having a generous spirit.
Like school, there are levels to the generosity mindset. See if you can spot yourself in the hierarchy.
Elementary Generosity: Give.
Giving can take many forms. It can be giving of your time: calling someone, texting someone, carving out time each week to spend with them, or acts of service (like washing their car, picking up the dry cleaning, etc.). It could be giving financially - investing resources such as paying for dinner or for theater tickets. It could be physical touch. It could be emotional generosity, where I decide to be vulnerable with you and share something that I struggle with, or something challenging from my past. It can be a gift of mental investment - thinking of the person throughout the day, thinking of ways to bring them joy or pleasure, and then acting on it. At the end of the day, Elementary Generosity is giving something of yourself to the other person - your time, resources, body, emotions, your mind.
High School Generosity: Give What You Expect to Receive.
If you want words of encouragement, heap them on your partner. If you want hard work and loyalty from your direct reports, start by getting in the trenches with them and advocating for them with higher ups. If you want more open and honest communication, be the first to initiate. If you want warmth and kindness, lead the way in removing a critical and judgmental attitude.
I want you to think about either a professional or personal relationship that is currently on the rocks. Chances are, your expectations and needs feel unmet, therefore you’re stalled. The car is not going anywhere. Time to add the fuel of generosity. What are you hoping to get from this person? Patience, investment, attention, vulnerability, respect? Lead with it first. Give to that person what you expect to receive.
University Generosity: Give What the Other Person Wants.
Whew. This one is hard. I once was dating someone who bought concert tickets to one of his favorite musicians. When he invited me to the concert he said ‘I was thinking of you when I bought the tickets.’ Truth is, if he was thinking of me, we’d be seeing John Mayer who was in town at the end of that month. Does she prefer to phone calls to texts? Call her. Does he want to pick the movie tonight? Let him. Does she like romantic gestures? Give them. Does he like a well-planned date? Thoughtfully plan each step of the way with him in mind. If she mentions a show she want to see, for the love of all things holy, buy the tickets!
There’s something so attractive about someone who does something for you that you know they would never do on their own. It speaks of sacrifice, which is the ultimate turn on & respect-builder. Selfish people are a dime a dozen; if you can step out of yourself and really see the other person, what they want, and be able to give it to them, that is next level generosity. And watch them light up like a Christmas tree when you do. Trust me, the joy on their face will fuel your desire to continue in this vein.
Summa Cum Laude Generosity: Give What the Other Person Needs.
You may want something from someone. They might want something from you. But the deepest & most mature level of generosity asks not what you or I want, but what the other person needs. The other person may want encouragement, but in this instance, they need hard truths delivered in tough love. They may want space, but actually need presence (or vise versa). They may want to see you tonight, but they really need the rest. They may want guidance, but really need to work through something on their own.
Summa Cum Laude Generosity requires knowing a person so deeply as to know what they need. It requires seeing a person and their needs independent from you. It requires the willingness to break rapport and take some relational risks, because you care more about the person than the state of the relationship. You have to risk being dead wrong and the other person being upset. You have to risk being spot on and the other person walking away. Give not what you or they want, but what they need.
After generosity, reciprocity is the second piece that fuels relationships.
You have a generous spirit, but are they reciprocating?
Evaluate someone’s worthiness to be in your life by the benchmark of reciprocity. Reciprocity is the practice of exchanging things with others for mutual benefit. In relationships, reciprocity is the mutual exchange of investment - both parties are equally contributing to the health of the relationship when it comes to effort. The word reciprocity comes from the Latin reciprocus which literally means ‘moving backward and forward.’ I like this definition; it reminds me of basketball. I take the ball down the court for a while, dribble it a bit, and then pass it to you and you have it for a while. A mutual backward and forward, a give and take, equal effort on both sides.
Are other people (friends or partners) matching your level of investment? If you are moving through the various levels of generosity with someone and they are not reciprocating, it’s time to either talk (with them) or walk (away). Generosity is too precious to be wasted on ungrateful recipients. It is a rare gemstone for which people will do backflips in all manner of relationships, so don’t cheapen it by carrying on with those who aren’t reciprocating. Wisdom is discerning if reciprocity is present; bravery is being willing to walk if not.
Relationships are a two-sided coin: Generosity is your job, Reciprocity is theirs. Generosity without Reciprocity is abuse; Reciprocity without Generosity is brutality. Both are needed for relationships to work.
Have them both and your relational tank will be full.
Have them both and you'll be connected to yourself & others in a way never thought possible.
Have them both and you'll never run dry.
2/24/2019 10:10:56 am
This is an excellent post Marybeth! I really enjoyed reading it. Yes, generosity and reciprocity are what make relationships work. When we are generous with others, we want to do all we can to make them happy. This means we take the time to get to know them and we anticipate their needs. We unselfishly give of ourselves to them and our reward is seeing them happy. It is in giving that we receive! Thanks for this insightful reminder!
2/24/2019 10:40:59 am
Thanks so much! Glad the generosity component resonated with you xx
3/5/2019 12:09:17 pm
What do you mean by reciprocity without generosity is brutality?
3/5/2019 03:22:14 pm
If we're reciprocating what our partner is putting out, and what they're putting out is not generosity, we're reciprocating bad behaviors. So it's just a cycle of being terrible to each other 😂😂 i.e. you are mean to mean, I'm mean to you. Brutality! no good.
3/13/2019 03:53:39 pm
Aaaahhh, I see what you mean.
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