Reciprocity In Relationships: Meaning And Ways To Build It

reciprocity in relationships

Picture this: you went out of your way to track down a vintage ashtray that would complete your husband’s collection for his birthday. You were on every message board, every Reddit thread, and followed every lead. You eventually got your hands on it and surprised your husband with it, and he was elated. When your birthday rolls around, he gives you a store-bought scarf. Doesn’t feel that great, does it? Reciprocity in relationships is more important than you think. 

But what exactly is reciprocity in relationships? Is the “give and take” as simple as exchanging gifts with each other? What does it mean to reciprocate love? And what happens when you don’t have it? 

Let’s pop all those questions bubbling away in your head, so that you can move one step closer to being the “perfect couple” you already advertise yourself to be on Instagram anyway. 

What Is Reciprocity In Relationships?

To maintain a healthy relationship, be it between family members, acquaintances, or a romantic partner, there needs to be a healthy give and take. Nobody likes the neighbor who borrows the lawnmowers and yard tools without ever returning them.

Reciprocity in relationships transpires when both partners act in a way that is mutually beneficial for the relationship. It’s the act of establishing a healthy balance between giving and taking. It’s when you return the favor, be it through an expression of love, a kind gesture, or simply by doing the dishes because your partner made dinner. 

If you’re looking for reciprocal relationship examples, it’s when you stop chewing with your mouth open because your partner told you it bothers them. It’s something you did for the benefit of the relationship, hence benefiting you as well. In such a dynamic, both parties feel safe in the space and depth of the feelings they share with each other since it’s very clear it’s not a one-sided relationship.

It’s important to note that the concept of reciprocity in relationships mustn’t be used for selfish means. The Bible says, “Do good, expect nothing in return.” Similarly, you can’t expect something in return because you started chewing with your mouth closed. Keeping a scorecard is a recipe for disaster. 

Related Reading: Effort In A Relationship: What It Means And 15 Ways To Show It

Why Is Reciprocity In Relationships Important?

The reciprocity in relationships psychology is closely linked to that of a positive relationship. When a balance between give and take doesn’t exist in a dynamic, it runs the risk of becoming manipulative, one-sided and dissatisfying. 

Think about it; if there’s only one person in a dynamic who sacrifices and acts as the giver, they’re eventually going to feel burned out. They may feel that their partner doesn’t feel the same way about them, which will bring the whole thing tumbling down. 

“Every time he has a work commitment, he cancels our plans like they never existed in the first place. I shift around my work meetings, my plans with friends and family just so I can spend a little bit of time with him. When he disregards the effort I put in, it seems like he doesn’t care much,” says Josephine, talking about her partner, Jared.

“Forget about emotional reciprocity in relationships, I don’t think we’ve ever established it. I’ve never felt secure, largely because of how he never shows he cares,” she adds. The animosity lingered in the air, eventually tarnishing their relationship. 

In effect, reciprocity in relationships also highlights the presence of mutual respect between partners. When both partners think of each other as equals, they might even establish a healthy give and take without even realizing it. 

When there’s a lack of reciprocity in relationships, it can even highlight bigger problems, like one partner taking the other for granted. They may not feel the need to “return the favor” since they believe their partner will stick around regardless. 

Now that you know what it is and how important it is, you’re probably trying to draw parallels. Let’s take a look at how you can build on this ever-important fundamental of any dynamic, lest yours falls prey to inconsideration. 

What does it mean to reciprocate love?
Being able to reciprocate love is extremely important in relationships

How To Build Reciprocity In Relationships

“I’m the only one who makes sacrifices in this relationship, you never do anything for me!” If you’ve heard something similar in your relationship, it’s probably because one of you feels neglected in your dynamic. 

The lack of reciprocity in relationships can eat away at it without you even realizing what’s going on. The constant fights and arguments are happening because one of you feels invalidated and don’t know how to communicate it. 

To make sure you both move one step closer toward a harmonious relationship, let’s take a look at how you can ditch the scorecard, but still feel secure with what you have with your partner.

1. Develop mutual respect 

In a union of equals, nasty power struggles in relationships and taking each other for granted doesn’t exist in the first place. One doesn’t feel any sense of superiority, which automatically means they don’t feel entitled to any special treatment without putting the same amount of effort in. 

Forget about reciprocity in relationships, a lack of mutual respect represents an array of issues that must be addressed immediately. If you often feel neglected, hurt and invalidated, your relationship might suffer from it. 

Both go hand in hand. Once both partners treat each other as equals, you’re bound to value the relationship a bit more too. 

Related Reading: Lack Of Affection And Intimacy In A Relationship — 9 Ways It Affects You

2. Support is a two-way street

You’ve just had a major fight about a recurring issue, and your partner has an upcoming meeting they’ve been anxious about for the longest time. Can they count on you to support them, regardless of how loud you may have screamed at each other the previous night? 

Emotional reciprocity in relationships develops when there’s almost a guarantee of support. Of course, things may get rough and you may stonewall each other for a while. It’d be weirder if you didn’t. But even so, that doesn’t mean you stop supporting your partner every step of the way. 

It doesn’t matter what you fought about or how rough things are currently…if your partner needs help, you should be the first person on their speed dial. Establishing this doesn’t come through words of affirmation, it comes through literally being there for the person you love – over and over again. 

3. Unwavering trust is a necessity 

Do you question your partner’s loyalty every time they require some personal space or every time they’re out with friends? If they don’t contact you for a day on a work trip, is the worst-case scenario running through your head, or are you sipping on your martini, enjoying your alone time? 

If your palms are sweaty each time your partner goes AWOL for a while, you probably need to work on developing trust. When you’ve reached a place where you do not question the monogamy of your dynamic, you feel more secure with what you have. 

When you’re able to trust each other, it stems from the fact that both of you are secure in the fact that you love each other – a byproduct of developing reciprocity in relationships. 

4. Reassurance – lots of it 

What does it mean to reciprocate love? When you show your paramour that you appreciate the little gestures they make with little gestures of your own, you feel just a little bit more secure with what you have. 

You surprise them with their favorite cheesecake on your way back from work, they do your share of the chores for a night. A surprise hug, a small gift, or just a few work meetings canceled to be able to spend time with the one you love; they all say the same thing: “I love and appreciate you, let me show you that through a few kind gestures.” 

Ways of showing affection in a relationship can be grandiose, or small gestures that make the one you love smile – like bringing them coffee in bed when they’re unable to open their eyes on a lazy Sunday morning. Or ordering their favorite Chinese before they even ask, after a long day at work.

on happy couples

5. Communicate openly and honestly 

Without even realizing it, the movies we’ve been watching have been giving us reciprocal relationship examples all along. Every single couples’ therapy session in a movie goes like this: “When you do that, it makes me feel like this.” 

Granted, it’s an oversimplified attempt at displaying what couples therapy looks like, but it’s still something that makes couples take one step closer toward developing reciprocity in relationships. Only by telling your partner what you feel and what you expect, will they be able to know what benefits the relationship. 

If you’re unable to communicate openly with each other due to any kind of fear or apprehension, then that’s an issue you must address immediately. If you feel you can’t talk to each other without inciting an argument, perhaps including an unbiased, professional third party can be beneficial – such as a couples’ therapist.

If you’re looking for professional help to make sure your relationship moves one step closer toward a harmonious union, Bonobology’s panel of experienced therapists is only a click away.

Related Reading: 12 Simple Tips To Build Healthy Relationships

6. Personal space facilitates reciprocity in relationships 

Personal space in a relationship can hold it together. Spending every waking moment together is bound to make partners get sick of each other, snapping at each other without even realizing what’s causing the unrest and tensions. 

Though it may seem contradictory, the reciprocity in relationships psychology tells us that by giving each other space and respecting each other’s boundaries, you can instill a sense of respect and reciprocity. 

It’s not really something we think about, reciprocity in relationship basically means establishing a healthy dynamic, devoid of, “All I do is sacrifice for you, why can’t you ever do something for me?”. If you’ve often kept score of who does what for the other, perhaps this article will do you more good than you know.

Now that you know what it takes for both of you to feel validated and reassured, you can hopefully move one step closer to having that perfect relationship we all crave. Sure, there will still be ups and downs, but at least you’ll know you’re always there for each other – one kind gesture at a time.

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