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Building reciprocity – Part 2

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To create a reciprocal relationship, both persons need to be able to accept responsibility for that creation. The interdependence of a healthy relationship requires that both people accept personal responsibility. One person cannot take all the blame, while the other person gives all the blame. Acceptance of responsibility for the creation of a reciprocal relationship takes a high degree of emotional maturity, which takes awareness, time, and personal work to develop. This can be the most rewarding work a person will do in his or her lifetime. It is the work of maturation.

When two people decide to develop a healthy, interdependent, reciprocal relationship, it is wise for them to take the time to talk about their personal value system and what characteristics they believe create a healthy relationship. For instance, some people value affection as an important condition for a healthy relationship, while others do not. In such a situation, reciprocity will be difficult. Respect is another value that needs to be discussed. Asking one another to define “respect” is an excellent place to start the discussion.

Respect must be reciprocal, and each person needs to be able to articulate when he or she he feels disrespected. Examples of areas that involve respect include philosophy, profession, principles, intelligence, creativity, parenting, and personal growth processes. Reciprocal respect will be difficult or impossible if one partner does not respect the other partner’s beliefs in those subjects. People need to be honest with themselves first so that they can then be honest with the other person. If there is a lack of respect, love cannot continue to grow and the relationship will be difficult, if not impossible.

A basic building block of ‘intimate’ friendships concerns how people define reciprocity about the exchange of goods and labour. It is prudent to have discussions about those issues, before committing. Reciprocity in other areas of the relationship, such as emotional, physical, or sexual intimacy also needs to be discussed. Negotiating reciprocity is a skill that people can build with one another.

Negative reciprocity often occurs when a behaviour has had a negative effect on one person and he or she reciprocates with a behaviour that has an equally negative effect. People react to each other without thinking. Persons need to discuss this sort of exchange and learn how to respond to it thoughtfully in order to prevent it from spiralling out of control. If persons have built an emotionally healthy relationship, they can work it out by themselves, but in other instances it is helpful to work with a counsellor who can mediate the dynamics of the relationship.

Bottom line is, we ought to believe in a fair exchange; but even when we are not given what we deem to deserve for our actions, we should find resolve in knowing that we have given of our best and know that one day our good measures will be returned to us, if even from a new source.

“Our actions are like ships which we may watch set out to sea, and not know when or with what cargo they will return to port.”

_ Iris Murdoch, The Bell

Dr Miller is Health Psychologist at the Milton Cato Memorial Hospital.

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