Years ago, when my husband and I were still trying to put the pieces of our broken marriage back together, I read a book called “His Needs, Her Needs” by Dr. Harley. This was the height of my marital self-help book era, and I can honestly say that I gleaned at least one nugget of truth from every book I read. This book was no exception.
Dr. Harley likens a marriage to a bank. We make love deposits and love withdrawals with our spouse, and they do the same with us. When we serve them, praise them, hug them–whatever–those are seen as deposits. When we mouth off, blow off, take off–those are definitely withdrawals. This concept can be applied to any relationship, and a thriving relationship will show a healthy balance of give-and-take.
I hadn’t thought about this concept for a long time. Fortunately, my husband and I have developed much better habits in our marriage, and we don’t have to be quite so pointedly intentional about making deposits these days. However, this Love Bank metaphor was recently brought to my mind during a conversation with a friend, and then with my children, and then with another friend. And today, with yet another friend. It seems as though there’s been a lot of withdrawing going on.
Every person, in every relationship, needs to be on both the receiving and giving ends. Relationships thrive when both parties love well and feel well-loved. That’s just the way it is. Sometimes, there are seasons when one person does more giving than the other. Maybe there’s an illness, a job change or some other life crisis in which one person just cannot make the deposits they usually make. During this time, the primary giver can still rest solidly on the store of deposits that had previously been made by the currently not-so-available party. This is normal–for a season. However, most relationships are not built to withstand this kind of one-sided investing for long.
Then there are times when someone feels like they have carried the weight of the relationship on their shoulders for too long. This can happen for a number of reasons, many of which may seem valid. The fact remains, though, that relationships suffer when there is no balance of give and take.
Perhaps one person feels like they are the sole initiator of time together. Or, maybe one friend feels like they are valued in the relationship more for what they can give than for who they are. Sometimes one spouse seems to be the only one working toward better communication. Whatever the situation, chances are good that most of us have been on either end of these scenarios at different times in our lives.
Of course, there’s also the whole issue of perception. Sometimes we just feel like we’re the only one giving when we really aren’t. Maybe we’re distracted or overly-emotional or we’ve fallen victim to our own unrealistic expectations. Whatever it is that skews our perspective, we must be very careful to examine the situation with wisdom and discernment so that we can come to a true understanding of the situation. Many perfectly good relationships have bitten the dust because of pent-up, untamed emotion. This is a tragedy.
One of the endless lessons my husband and I try to teach our children is that they are only responsible for themselves. As much as they would like to manage the people around them (primarily their siblings), they cannot. They can communicate respectfully and in love toward any changes they would like to see made by their peers, but they are only able to truly alter their own behavior. They may be able to shame, bully or barter to get results for a short time, but the new behavior will not stick, and the relationship will suffer.
So, the question is: What is to be done with the people who take more than they give? I really don’t know. There are too many variables for a one-response-fits-all kind of answer. I do know this: God’s grace is complete. We are called to love in Truth. Relationships don’t benefit from shoving the Truth under the rug.
I have been a record-keeper in the past, and I gave that to Jesus a long time ago. I asked for freedom from keeping score, and He helped me get it. I don’t want to give out of obligation, and I don’t want to remember every offense. I want to serve where God calls me to serve, loving as I want to be loved. Having said that, I’m okay saying “no” when people try to take too much. I’m also more than happy to give myself some space from the folks who try to suck me dry. This is actually one really big reason that I don’t have a smartphone. I don’t want to be on call for other people all of the time. There’s a big difference in giving generously and in giving constantly. This is one of the healthy boundaries my husband and I have set.
I wish relationships were easier, but sometimes they just aren’t. I wish I was more selfless, less overly-sensitive, more patient. I can work toward these things, but the fact of the matter is that I will never be perfect. I do know, though, that I want to give more than I take. And, when people out-give me, I want them to know how incredibly, completely, totally grateful I am. I want them to know that I know I’ve been out-given and that I super-duper appreciate their selflessness. I don’t want them to ever think I take them for granted. Then, I want to pay that kind of generosity forward–in my own way with my own gifts and in God’s good time.
In a way, I think gratitude may be one of the biggest deposits we can make in the people around. We all want to feel like what we give has value. An appreciative spirit is a giving spirit; it communicates that we understand the investment that others have made in us. Sincere and intentional gratitude can make even the biggest over-givers among us happy to keep on giving. When we feel appreciated, we feel loved.