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YOU SCRATCH MY BACK, I’LL SCRATCH YOURS: The Give and Take in Relationships

pam_general[2]

balance pictureWith the approach of Valentine’s Day, a very busy day for counselors due to broken or lonely hearts, I thought it would be worthwhile to consider the importance of practicing reciprocity, the ability to give to and receive from others.  The ability to give and take in a balanced manner will pay off large dividends in all types of relationships, be it friendships, parent-child, dating relationships, spouses and even co-workers who share a very small office…right, Eva?

Let’s look at reciprocity using the familiar saying, “You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours”.  Growing up it was a fairly common practice for my siblings and me to tickle each other’s backs when we were on long road trips in the car.  And, you can be sure of one thing, there was an equal amount of giving/taking going on. No one was going to receive a back tickle without giving equally back to the giver.  Not if they ever wanted a turn of receiving again! We were even known to use our watches or number of songs played on the radio to be as “fair” as possible. Without a perceived balance, back-tickling would have been abandoned, likely after arguing.

So, what are the possible variations to this quote? Really, there are three:

  • You Scratch My Back, I’ll Scratch Yours—two people in a relationship who want to have a mutual, balanced amount of give/take.  It may not always be 50/50. In fact, that is unlikely. But there is clear evidence of each person giving and receiving in an equitable way. Typically, both people in this relationship are content with the relationship. This relationship has a good chance of enduring over time and providing both people with happiness and satisfaction.
  • You Scratch My Back, I Won’t Scratch Yours—two people in a relationship wherein one is a giver but not a receiver and one is a receiver but not a giver.  This relationship is vulnerable because while the receiver typically remains satisfied, the giver may struggle with feeling unappreciated. The relationship may start out okay but gradually becomes problematic as the giver’s needs for nurturance and attention go unmet or met at a very low level.
  • You Won’t Scratch My Back, I Won’t Scratch Yours—two people in a relationship where neither gives and both take.  But, what is there to take? Neither is giving. So, while this might work in the short-term, this relationship is set up for failure. These relationships tend to be volatile because although each person is not giving, both likely want to receive. Therein lies the tension. Indifference, frustration, anger and resentment brew.

To point out the importance of balancing the act of giving/receiving, whether it be back rubs or sharing a quality conversation or anything, really, I use a great activity that leads to lots of discussion by the participants. This activity is good for intermediate elementary, middle school, high school, and college students.  Adults in a group setting would also find it revealing.  Click the following link if you are interested in previewing the whole-class or small-group activity:  YOU SCRATCH MY BACK, I’LL SCRATCH YOURS: The Give and Take in Relationships