Self Improvement — 13 January 2012
Is it better to give than to receive?

This is the season of giving and sharing with others.  Mark Twain advised us, “It is better to give than receive – especially advice.” It is probably true for most forms of help since the giver has the capacity to share with the receiver that which the latter lacks. Yet, this saying may not apply to giving and receiving in love relationships.

Giving is empowering. It enables the giver to feel worthy, generous and kind. Research by Linda J. Roberts of the University of Illinois, confirmed Mark Twain’s notion,“Giving help to others predicted improvements in psychosocial adjustment; giving advice was a unique predictor.”

In a survey of thousands of volunteers, Allen Luks discovered that people who helped others reported better health than those who did not volunteer. The benefits of being a helper included: experiencing a “high” feeling, greater strength and energy, experiencing more warmth, calmness, greater self-worth and fewer aches and pains.

The personal benefits to the giver often double the advantages to the receiver. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “It is one of the most beautiful compensations of this life that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.”

Receiving, on the other hand, as needed as it may be, is not as pleasurable. Though it is not necessarily true, help recipients often feel less fortunate, less able, less capable, or even incompetent in providing for themselves. Dependency is another compromising emotion that may make the receiver feel inferior and indebted without the capacity to reciprocate. There are receivers who feel shame, belittlement, fear and anger about being viewed as less worthy than the givers. These emotional components make many people in need reluctant to seek help.

In relationships, however, giving and receiving are expected parts of the connection and are both rewarding. The seesaw of power-sharing keeps each mate giving and receiving some of the time. When the ratio is balanced, the ride is exciting and invigorating.

Receiving from a non-familial source is often necessary but uncomfortable, while receiving from a mate is enthralling. The difference lies in the nature of the relationship. The expectation of reciprocity and love produces positive regard, shared expectations and a connected bond, all of which lack in other giver-receiver duos.

In relationships, receiving is not regarded from a deficit perspective but from a validating one. When a mate is helpful, caring and kind he/she affirms the partner’s value, desirability and worth and evokes esteem and gratitude.

Love does not conquer all but it lubricates the wheels of easy relating, affirms both mates’ worthiness and significance upon which interpersonal wellbeing can survive and thrive.

As a giver or receiver:

  • Regard giving to others as a gift to them and to yourself.
  • Adopt a humble and respectful approach toward the receiver and gratitude about your self-enrichment.
  • Consider giving to your mate a privilege and receiving a precious validating treat.
  • Model giving and receiving graciously for a happy union.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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