In the past few years, I’ve begun to think of people being, in broad terms, on a spectrum of either giver or receiver.
I’ve also begun to understand that relationships of any sort (family, friendship, business) often hinge on the push and pull of that spectrum.
Does a person lean more toward caretaker, wanting to help others (giver)? Or does a person put themself first (receiver)?
As a Baby Boomer, I grew up in a time often referred to as the Me Generation. It’s a term also often applied now, to Millennials.
Just because two people in a relationship may be at different ends of that spectrum doesn’t doom the relationship. Though the extreme ends are not pretty.
The receiver extreme is the narcissist, always putting themselves first (I’d give an example, but I’m determined not to let politics enter the realm of this blog. Oops.). The giver extreme is the control freak people pleaser, also known as enabler (that is the end I tilt to when I was get out of whack).
It’s the extent that we manage our impulses along the spectrum of giving and receiving that allows us to have successful relationships.
Here are two keys I’ve come to believe in and understand through difficult times: 1. Know the place of the other person in your relationship on the spectrum and accept them unconditionally for who they are. 2. Understand your own place on the spectrum and be willing to occasionally adjust your default mode of thinking.
The most important factor, though? Dropping any expectation you have for your loved one to likewise occasionally adjust his or her thinking.
The dynamic of the expectation of tit-for-tat—if I give something up, I should get something back—is a relationship wrecker. A group I belong to has a saying that expectations are nothing but premeditated resentments.
When expectations are not met, we frequently find ourselves “spinning,” which is chewing an issue over relentlessly to figure out if you’ve handled something correctly. Except that every angle tends to end up with justifying how you handled it when you know damn well if you had handled it well, you wouldn’t be spinning.
Naturally, it’s easy to talk about trying to break that spin cycle. Figuring out how to live it is a lot harder.
One classic coping mechanism I’ve used is to change scenery. Stop whatever you’re doing mid-spin. Call a relative or friend. Turn on music. Take a drive. Browse the internet. Mindfulness is a more structured approach and it can be really short. Start by taking deep, mindful breaths.
If there is anything to like about the new information age in which we live, it’s that our brains have been trained to be easily distracted. So the quicker and more you do to distract the blame, the more likely you will break the spin cycle.
Try it sometime. Just don’t lay an expectation on me for suggesting it.