Get our newsletters

Chatterbox: Reciprocity


There’s an episode of “The Twilight Zone” about an avid reader whose wife refuses to allow him to read, claiming it’s a frivolous waste of time.

The ironic plot twist at the end makes his story even sadder, but when I watched it for the first time, I just kept wondering why she would deny him the pastime he loved; it was such a simple request. The job of each of us is to help foster joy and achievement, for anyone, but most especially our loved ones.

Loved ones come in a wide variety and share an assortment of cooperative lifestyles and living situations: separate; together; loving; familial; platonic; financial; and even for mere convenience. Of course, couples making a life together seem the most common life commitment. They love, help and most raise families together, but a life commitment is so much more than that.

Living life within a relationship is a compromise for anyone, and some sacrificing or modification of habits, hobbies, or activities is to be expected. Partners also undertake various duties in a household. Doing things that weren’t in our wheelhouse before, handling financial changes, and keeping our heads in the game of marriage and parenting mean sacrifice. We are enriched, of course, but it’s very important to remember that maintaining a healthy relationship means we will give up some of the things that make us tick as individuals … key word: “some.”

To do commitment well will cut into our personal activities and the finances that support those activities; we get that. We win it back tenfold with a successful relationship and family. Still, it’s essential that we maintain a good lock on who we are and our personal joy. For any adult in any relationship, that’s critical, because we must maintain those parts of ourselves that are imperative to our personal peace, fulfillment and achievement. Also key is what we take for ourselves, we must give to our important “other” and help them fulfill themselves … and that means in everything, large and small – from singing out loud (no matter how badly) to being supportive while they get their Ph.D.

The Gen X kids were far more encouraged, and far more inclined, to seek college degrees and careers than many Baby Boomers. Meant to be a leg up, ironically, it helped create today’s dual-income society, which we talked about just this past Aug. 10. More Millennials, ironically, are second-guessing college, according to a new study, and who can blame them? What shouldn’t change, however, is that, in any generation, we remain aware of reciprocity in our relationships, and the support of those choices.

Sharing our hearts, home, finances, time, aspirations, energy, and support with a person we care about should mean that we know we’re supposed to help them achieve whatever brings them joy … from pasttimes to income production. Just as importantly, before we commit, we should be sure that our life-mate isn’t a one-way street. While we help them achieve their dreams or find any small joy, they should be helping us do the same. This is a very key component to a happy life with the person we love, because love alone, though great, simply isn’t enough. No one should live a life less fulfilling because the person he/she chose to share it with feels entitled to have their own way too often.

We all know there are those who are comfortable taking lots or little, huge and small sacrifices, from others without reciprocating; many “takers” feel no compunction about it. Sometimes, so much so that the “givers” forget that they are also entitled to not only achieve or enjoy the things that fulfill them, but that they are entitled to support, in those pursuits, from those whom they have supported.

Some people have difficulty advocating for themselves, even when dealing with a partner. They find it difficult to ask for help or feel they’ve earned help; they won’t express a preference, let alone impose their will, even for something small. Many don’t feel entitled enough, but a good partner shouldn’t have to be asked, let alone be argued with, to return support. Anyone who has accepted help as needed to find or achieve any level of joy, success and fulfillment, must reciprocate, even when it’s difficult.

Whether spouses, partners, family, friends, co-workers, neighbors or, even, our children, we must acknowledge that it’s necessary to extend to them everything that we accept, or expect, from them.

Reciprocity is imperative.