Give and Take


When I do unexpected or special things for my wife Jane, I often notice that in the back of my mind I’m thinking, “I sure hope she does something nice for me now.” If you find yourself judging me after reading that sentence, I have two things to say. First off, you’re right. That’s the point I’m trying to make. But the second part of my response is that I’m guessing you do it too.

Too often, we do something for others with the expectation (maybe even just subconsciously) of what we’ll get in return. It’s hard to avoid thinking in this transactional way since so much of our world is based on this system. Money is essentially an advanced form of bartering, where instead of trading what we have directly for the thing that we want, we can get a piece of paper (or digital numbers sent to our online account) dictating the exact amount of value that somebody pays for the goods or services that we provide. Then we take that money and pay for goods and services like our utility bills or the service at restaurants (tipping extra if we have a positive social interaction!). We do this in almost every place we go or with every service we use, physically or digitally.

We mostly accept this system, although we probably disagree with the pricing from time to time. But when it comes to our personal relationships, this transactional mentality leads us down the wrong path. A system of counting “debits” and “credits” in a relationship will almost definitely lead to bitterness, disillusionment, and hurt. Deep down, we all realize that. We know that parenting is not and cannot be a transactional relationship. We know that parenting requires a whole lot more giving than taking. And we don’t even think of keeping track in this context. But for some reason, we find ourselves drifting into the pattern of counting and keeping track in some of our other relationships.

And what I’m wanting to help all of us (myself included) see is that transactions and relationships don’t mesh well. In some ways, they’re almost mutually exclusive. Of course, all relationships will involve some give and take. A relationship that involves one person always giving and one always taking isn’t really a relationship. It’s more of an exploitation system than a relationship.

It doesn’t come easily or naturally, but I’m trying to get to the point where I just love Jane freely, not because I’m expecting or wanting something in return. It’s hard to break free from the pattern of transactional thinking, but when I do, I can clearly see that it makes our relationship stronger and more life-giving. If you’ve found yourself “keeping track” when it comes to family, I’d challenge you to work on letting go of that mindset. When you start loving and giving freely, you will find that your relationships will flourish, which will help you win more often at home.