Takers and caretakers
Do you feel as if you are giving a lot more to your intimate partner than s/he is giving back to you? We’ve all heard that relationships are supposed to be 50-50: what I offer you over time is roughly equivalent to what you are supposed to offer me in return. But that any given time, I may have more challenges to deal with-perhaps I got a poor job evaluation, or maybe I’m dealing with a recent illness, or perhaps I’m depressed. At any given moment in time, our relationship isn’t likely to be 50-50. In the case I just described, I may be far more needy than you, and my need to receive may be far greater than yours. Our relationship may be 85 percent you giving to me, and 15 percent me giving to you. But let’s say that your mom dies unexpectedly, and it’s you who all of a sudden heavily needs to lean on me. At that time I may suspend my own needs by coming to your aid, taking care of you and helping you grieve. At that time the relationship may be 90 percent you and 10 percent me. It is in this way that the relationship may wind up feeling as if it’s about 50-50 over time. That overall, what I have given is roughly equal to what I’ve received. But let’s say it isn’t equivalent. Let’s say you are consistently doing far more of the giving, nurturing and caretaking than I am. That’s when you are likely to feel as if I’m being a taker – that I’m being selfish and self-absorbed – and that you are in the position of being the giver too much of the time. Sooner or later, that feeling is going to undermine your love for me, and it may well threaten the foundation of our relationship-unless we do something to change that pattern. A taker attempts to get what s/he wants by using withdrawal, emotional distance, disapproval, anger, rage, incessant talking, blame, threats, dismissal, criticism or a lot of emotional drama. Takers are often highly controlling people, and they act entitled. They attempt to control their intimate relationships and are highly sensitive to being controlled by their partners. They will therefore often resist doing what their intimate partner asks of them, while at the same time loudly complaining that they’re not getting their needs met. They have the attitude that “it is your job to meet my needs and wants, but I am under no obligation to meet yours.” To be with a taker is to be in a one-sided non-reciprocal relationship. Most everything is for him or her, not you. Caretakers, on the other hand, give to others in order to get what they want, frequently sacrificing their own needs and desires in order to take care of others. They hope that once their partner is happy and content, he or she will richly and generously give back. The nature of the caretaker is to give-be it time, energy, money, nurturance, pampering or self-sacrifice. The caretaker thinks often about what would please his/her partner, but the taker typically doesn’t look out for what his/her partner wants-or doesn’t see those wants as his/her responsibility. So for all their self-sacrifice often feel cheated, devalued, disrespected, unappreciated and unloved. A relationship between a taker and a caretaker is doomed to generate feelings of anger, resentment and distance. The only relationship that seems to work well over time is that roughly 50-50 relationship, where both partners feel well taken care of-and both are giving what the other says is important to him/her. Neil Rosenthal is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Denver and Boulder specializing in relationships. He can be reached at 303-758-8777 or by e-mail him through his Web site, http://www.heartrelationships.com.