Is reciprocity necessary in relationships?

January 23, 2024

Reciprocity in relationships first came up for me many decades ago. It was then that I realized how every relationship requires balance of some kind. Not all the time–because relationships ebb and flow —but overall, the scales do need to be more balanced than not.

Not tit for tat. Not the exact same exchange. But some sort of exchange.

Reciprocity comes in different colors. Maybe someone can’t cook a big meal for you, but CAN make introductions to help network your child into professional circles. It’s never tit for tat. It’s more like “give what’s in your wheelhouse.”

It all counts. And if someone doesn’t understand that, well, bad on them. Same with those who keep score. Just…NO.

Roles change in relationships, too. Each of us has our life challenges, whether it’s grief, trauma, loss, unemployment–we all go through things. In a good friendship, we recognize that these things are going on in the life of others we care about–even if we, too are going through our own stuff– and act accordingly.

The fact that we’re going through something doesn’t release us from a loving obligation to notice that another is hurting.

In fact, long ago a therapist told me that one of the best ways to treat a situational depression was to volunteer to help others. To come out of ourselves and lend a hand to someone else in need.

That’s all I have to say today. Got anything to share on this topic? I’d love to hear it in the comments.

Kind and thoughtful gifts for those who need a little lift are here:


8 comments on “Is reciprocity necessary in relationships?
  1. I’ve been thinking about this in the context of aging. Since my husband is several years older than me, it’s likely that our relationship gets less reciprocal in practical ways. I don’t want to develop resentment around this. I’m working on gratitude for the reciprocity up to this point in time and gratitude for his presence in my life, even on days when he’s not able to help with daily chores around the house.

  2. Laurie Stone says:

    I think reciprocity is nice, although doesn’t have to be tit for tat. It can be something as small as listening to a friend who wants to vent and someday doing the same for you.

  3. Alana says:

    Joy’s comment made me think. I had an aunt and uncle (now both deceased) very much in love. They married the year I was born, I think, and had the traditional division of labor (he worked, she raised two children) for a time, then she started to work, too. Eventually, after they both retired, she had a lot of health issues and my uncle took on the housework and many other things. Never complained it wasn’t his role. He just did it. He was about five years older than she was, too. We marry for better or for worse. I can hope to be there for my husband in that way if that’s what life throws at us.

  4. Thanks for this Carol…I understand your heart feelings. After Alan died and I took on the task and joy of helping raise my grand babies and running my business on my own (no other option), I’m finding my bandwidth is stretched pretty thin. My friendships make up a smaller portion of time but it’s not my intention to do harm. Learning to forgive myself is my growth and I’m hoping others will forgive me too. This journey is requiring more than I knew I had to give and I do have it to give, which is a powerful revelation. Grateful for it all and know I’m doing my best. It’s what I can do during this unexpected season of my Life. Showing up. Sending love, my friend…

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