Giving and Getting

I went to therapy today, and half-way through I realized something. I give and I give and I give but I rarely get. It’s such a tiring way to live, to never be on the receiving end of a relationship, to always be the one giving to it.

As a teacher all I do all day is give. And give. And give. And give. I give to students who don’t even want to get, who fight against my attempts to give. I give to parents who don’t think I’m giving enough. I give to administrators who create teaching situations in which I can’t possible succeed. All I do is give, and at school I almost never get. It’s exhausting.

As a mother I also give. And sure I get, in the form of sweet smiles and excited hugs and (infrequent but amazing) grammatically incorrect declarations of love, but the day to day giving is hard to maintain, especially when I’m performing the brunt of it. I’m not trying to complain about how much I give to my daughter, because she is obviously worth it, but it is hard to maintain that constant movement of energy outward, when there is so little time to replenish it.

I think, actually, the part of my life where I’m most disappointed with the ration of giving to getting is in my marriage. I give so much to my partner and most days I feel like I don’t get very much back. I give of way more time and effort to my partner and our family than he does (and he would absolutely agree with that). I give so much to him, I do so much to try to make him happy and I don’t feel I get that same consideration from him. When I want something I have to ask for it. I take Isa to give him personal time at least two times a week, but I have to ask for every moment away. Can I go to yoga? Does it work for me to go to therapy tomorrow afternoon? Do you mind if I see J and BB this weekend? I promise I won’t be gone long. It creates a dysfunctional dynamic, one that is not conducive to the kind of relationship I want to have.

My partner really isn’t very good at giving. He doesn’t even give me many hugs or kisses. Heck, he doesn’t even give gifts at birthdays or Christmas. The man just doesn’t give much.

That isn’t totally true. He gives his time to be with me and our daughter. Every once in awhile, when he has the energy, he cooks dinner for us. He gives a lot of time and energy to his music website/podcast. He gives a lot to his work, to a cause that is deserving of his considerable efforts. He definitely gives, but I feel like I’m on the bottom of his giving totem pole.

I’m probably being silly. Of course I get from people, sometimes it’s just easy to overlook that stuff. My mother, for one, is ALWAYS giving to me. She gives me food, she gives me the packages I had sent to her house. She gives me her time and energy when she watches my daughter, sometimes for two or three days at a time. My mother does nothing but give to me. I wonder if she feels the same way, that every takes from her and no one stops to give her anything back? I have to start rectifying that ASAP; my mom deserves better than that.

And so do I, and I don’t know how to get it. I’ve already asked my partner for more support at home. Heck, I’ve already asked for more showings of affection, more hugs and kisses and saying I love you. I’ve asked for that multiple times, but it’s obviously not his way. And I know the work balance at home is never going to change. We’ve tried to rectify the imbalance SO MANY TIMES. It’s just not going to be any different than it currently is.

I want to make clear, that I don’t think I give more than other people in the world. I have just been thinking of ways I can nourish myself lately and I’ve come up against the difficulty (or impossibility) or doing that when I’m spending so much of my time in the service of others. How do I give myself what I need when I’m always giving other people what they need?

It doesn’t feel like I’m asking for too much, and yet my requests seem impossible. I just wish that in more relationships I could get as much as I give.

Do you feel like you give more than you get? Do you wish you could get more than you do now? Do you think that is even possible?

8 responses

  1. I believe, fairly strongly, that it all hinges on the expectations of what you get – from whatever you’re giving.

    I’ve discovered recently that Charlie and I show affection in very different ways. My way of showing affection? Verbal connection, where we can talk and I am present, and engaged, and listening, and am CURIOUS about how he feels and why. I do little things that try and lighten his stress load – cards, hanging pictures of us, planning our anniversaries and family days out and things that I know he’ll enjoy – away from chores.

    He gives kisses and hugs and does dishes and laundry and tells me to go to bed early.

    And the thing is, it may not be what I WANT from him, exactly – I often wish we connected more verbally, and I wish I felt like I was important enough to him to go out of his way and give me a card or plan a weekend away or take a day off work just to spend time with me. He’s just not that kind of guy.

    But it doesn’t mean he’s not giving, too. I just have to LOOK for it, because giving for him is different than giving for me.

    And I’ve found that, really, the only person who can give back to myself the way that I want to? Is ME.

    So yes, I still ask for my time away – my running time, specifically. It’s a lot to ask for, Saturday and Sunday mornings away from the house. But I don’t allow myself to feel guilty for asking for that time, for making it sacred to me. Because it keeps me balanced and feeling like I get as much as I give.

    Not sure if this is making sense, but maybe it’s as easy as giving to YOURSELF. Letting go of the guilt, of feeling like you have to ask for permission for time away. Allowing yourself to sit on the couch and read a book while Mi Vida works late on something. It’s the best kind of giving, really. You give AND get in that scenario. It just takes some work to let go of the idea that it’s not okay to give to yourself.


  2. So in therapy…we talked about the 5 love languages. And my husband and I are apparently from different countries as far as that is concerned. Now we are in the process of learning each other’s love languages to communicate better and to keep each other’s love tanks full. When your husband keeps your love tank full, you have more to give to others. I’m still working on this so I can’t say it’s all perfect, but there have been some improvements and it feels like there is more give on the other side and not always take.

    I think you’re feelings are perfectly natural. I think the whole love language something worth looking into. I know it sounds honky, but really, it makes so much sense as to why I feel like I’m giving giving and giving some more and not getting back. Because he’s trying to give give give, but it’s not in a way I can understand.

    Good luck and thinking of you!

  3. I absolutely feel like I give more than I get, but I think it might just be a woman versus man thing. We are more nurturing, more detail oriented, keeping the family in line type people, and the men seem to be more carefree, and just think everything falls into place when in reality it’s the woman keeping the household going by paying the bills, checking on insurance, replenishing missing items at daycare, keeping the kids on a schedule. I obviously am talking about my own experience here, but I know from talking to other women they feel similar, so I wonder if we all feel a bit of this? I’ve also heard people talk about the love language. I have never read the book but I know it would help me in my marriage to know what really makes my husband tick. He’s made it obvious if he’s not feeling loved and we go through a time where intimacy is lacking, he kind of shuts down and doesn’t help me around the house. That in turn gets me upset and it’s like a vicious downward spiral. But as long as I devote time to give him love the way he wants it, then everything is good. It’s pretty amazing when you realize how simple it could actually be. (I just glanced at the comment above and realized she mentioned the 5 love languages too). 🙂

  4. Are you sure I didn’t write this post?? The others have said such wise things, I don’t have quite as much to add. But, as Stephanie said, I think women are more comfortable when they’re giving more than receiving. I know I am. I don’t want the split to be 90-10, but 60-40 would be more than fine for me. And Sarah is right about the love languages (so is Serenity). My husband works his butt off, 7 days a week, at a very stressful job. I know that he feels he’s doing this out of love for his family. however, I’d really rather he worked less and didn’t leave crumbs on the counter overnight! Understanding the 5 love languages still poses the challenge: is it my responsibility to understand that K is trying to show love and accept it, or is it his responsibility to demonstrate love in a way that i like to receive it? (the book does not address this question, btw).

    I obviously do not have the answer, since I’m as frustrated as you, but some things that do help me are: not feeling guilty if I need to ask K for something, and not phrasing it as begging. So, instead of “can I go to yoga?” try “I have yoga tonight, so you need to be home at xxx, remember?” and also seeking support from other (female) people: my mom, real-life friends, bloggers.

  5. Oh, my. I could have written this post, too. Yes. I feel depleted from giving all the time sometimes. I often feel like I give until the cows come home, and I’ve never been well-suited for giving all the time: some people are, but I am an introvert and it’s hard for me to be “on” all the time for others. So sometimes, especially around loved ones birthdays, I get extra drained. Not really sure how to correct this. Let me know if you get any great from readers!

  6. Being depleted seems to be self-perpetuating. It’s so hard to gather the energy to turn things around when you’re…depleted.

    It was my experience that when my kids were toddlers and pre-schoolers, I was always depleted. Things do get better, energy- and time-wise, as the child grows and becomes less dependent on you.

  7. Everyone has made so many good comments here I’m not sure if I’m adding anything useful.

    The thing I’ve learned from personal experience is that women give – we anticipate, we think of things our husbands will like, we try to be considerate. We’re good at that – at empathy, at anticipating needs, etc. And when our men don’t do that, we get upset because we actually have to verbalise what it is we need. But (gross generalisation here) I think men are much more “what you see is what you get.” They don’t realise that we expect them to anticipate our needs. They don’t know how to, even though it seems so simple to us. They’ll do things if we ask – and yes, it is frustrating that we have to ask. But I discovered that once I started asking (or telling) (I need a hug/I don’t need you to solve this problem I just need you to listen/ etc) I stopped feeling so resentful. Our relationship went ahead in leaps and bounds. And I also discovered during a very difficult time in our relationship about 16 years ago that when I shut down he did too. And what brought us out of it was finding that if I gave the hugs and the “I love yous” that I needed, I started getting them back.

    But I’m with Deborah – don’t ask for permission. Give instructions or bargain. “I’ll take Isa now so you can have a couple of hours free, which means that you have to watch her when I’m doing yoga/going to therapy/visiting friends.”

  8. The “love languages” thing is very wise.

    The other thing I wonder is if your work is depleting you in the same way that your home life is depleting you. I don’t know how you’d manage to achieve a change here – I leave that as an exercise for the alert blogger 😉 – but for what it’s worth. I just imagine that if you deal with kids at home and then go to work and deal with more kids then a lot of the same frustrations might arise in both places. Not that this is automatically true, or that changing to a kid-free workplace (or home! bit late now though) would necessarily avoid the problem – it would depend on exactly what it is about home and work you find taxing. But yeah, if you *can* find a way to swap the ways in which you give, perhaps that might help? Someone (blogger) recommended me Motherstyles which talks about this.

    The other thing to consider is how you’d feel if you weren’t giving a lot. It sounds nice in theory, but I think in general people are genuinely happier giving more than they receive (and from a practical standpoint I think this ends up being the situation for most people as you note in your post – society works because most adult people have more capacity to give than need to receive). It can be extremely demoralising to be on the needing end of the equation all the time, and sometimes it can help (me) to remember that.

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