Reciprocal Relationships

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Post by Guest on Wed Oct 08, 2014 1:48 pm

I'm splitting off from the "Needing to be near-perfect to "ethically" date, analysis paralysis, social inexperience, and advice columns" post, because otherwise I'm going to be derailing that very hard.

kleenestar wrote:My rule of thumb is, "Give in proportion to what I ask." Not everyone will want to help you grow, but you can make it a joyful and pleasant experience for those who do.

This is a really interesting rule, and although I'd never articulated it, I struggle a huge amount in my relationships because of my attempts to follow it too closely.

How does one exist in a relationship where one person just needs more than the other?

I struggle a lot with depression. I struggle with anxiety, with suicidal and self-harming thoughts. I have done so since I was very young, and I've more or less acknowledged that I probably always will. I have a therapist for helping me wrestle with the big picture, and I've used medications for help, but it frequently winds up becoming a sort of wall between me and the people in my life. On the other side of the face I show the world is a massive ball of snarling, self-loathing ugliness, which I pen up all the time. I don't want to let other people see it, not just because it's ugly and I'm ashamed of it, but because it seems unfair to them.

"Here is my pain," I say. "It's ugly, and bitter, and unpleasant, and I live with it all the time like a little troll that hangs off my back. It whispers ugly, disgusting things in the dark. It tries to trick me into stumbling away into the night and never coming back. And now that you have seen it, you will never unsee it: I have brought something ugly into your life, and it will be there as long as I am."

When other people don't have ugly little trolls like that, what can I possibly give to balance out what I'm asking? I genuinely love some of these people. If they needed to call me up at 2AM and ask me to come hold them, I would do it. If they needed a plane ticket to fly across the country, I would do it. If they needed a place to stay, or someone to hold their head while they vomited, or someone to help piece their broken life together -- yes. Absolutely. But they're not broken. They don't need the things I am desperate for. How can I possibly ask so much of someone when there is no way for me to repay?

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Post by kleenestar on Wed Oct 08, 2014 1:56 pm

That's why I say "in proportion to" rather than "equal to." I ask that my husband be a full partner to me - therefore it's on me to be a full partner to him. That looks different for each of us, and at different times it takes a different amount of work. But I'm not expecting him to do something for me that I'm not willing to do for him. I might not always be able - for example, it took him literally years to teach me how to help him when he was in pain, while he was able to do that for me right away - but I'm willing to give from what I've got in order to try. I don't know if that makes more sense, or if it's a helpful perspective for your situation.
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Post by Enail on Wed Oct 08, 2014 1:59 pm

Two things: 1. Payment doesn't have to be in kind. A friend that you know without a doubt would be there for you if you did need it is an amazing and valuable thing, even if you don't need it at any given time. That knowledge is a thing you are giving them that makes them feel their lives are safer and more stable and more loved places.  

And, on the day to day, also, maybe they don't need the things you need. A friend who will go see a movie with them and pick it to death afterwards might be what they need. A friend who will encourage their latest hare-brained scheme for guerrilla science demonstrations might be what they need. It doesn't have to be big, dramatic stuff to be valuable.

And I suspect you're probably already aware of this, but 2. is to pay attention to what they're okay giving and do them the respect of trusting them. As long as you give them space to say no to something, give them the chance to change the subject if they try to, and so on, you're accepting a gift that they want to give you. That's okay.
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Post by reboundstudent on Wed Oct 08, 2014 2:24 pm

Enail wrote: And I suspect you're probably already aware of this, but 2. is to pay attention to what they're okay giving and do them the respect of trusting them. As long as you give them space to say no to something, give them the chance to change the subject if they try to, and so on, you're accepting a gift that they want to give you. That's okay.

But how do you... trust that? How do you know you are giving appropriate space?

A lot of times in my friendships and relationships, I thought I was giving space for them to say no or change the subject. I even flat out said "Let me know if you want to stop talking about this!", and tried really, really hard to stick to it. Very few people took me up on the offer-and yet later I'd learn they felt I had pushed them or forced them to see to my needs, and that I didn't give them space. It was like.... they wanted space/to go away, but felt I wouldn't let them, so didn't try.

I feel like a bull in a china shop a lot of the times, where even when I am trying my very best and gentlest, the other person sees me as a hard-nosed tyrant. In several fights with my boyfriend, I've tried to use my "calm, even-toned" voice, only for him to say I sound "condescending."

So how can I ever trust that the other person is offering me that gift, when I've been told that I seem to coerce folks to give the gift even when I'm actively trying not to?
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Post by Enail on Wed Oct 08, 2014 2:31 pm

Honestly, I don't really have a good answer to that, except to say I sympathize - apparently my 'calmly discussing' and my 'hurt or sad' look exactly like my 'death-rays-from-eyes furious'.
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Post by Guest on Wed Oct 08, 2014 2:39 pm

Yeah, I think that's where I smash up against a wall, too, reboundstudent -- if you let someone else in a little, and they respond by showing you an ugly little demon on their shoulder, you know you can maybe share a bit more. But if they just hold your hand and let you bleed on them for a while, how can you know whether they were really up for providing the support, or if they were just being polite? How can you tell when they're secretly resenting or thinking you're a lot of work?

And it's kind of hard to say to someone, "You know I'd absolutely bleed for you if you ever needed it," without sounding a little bit terrifying, even if you mean it as a way to say, "I love you."

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Post by kleenestar on Wed Oct 08, 2014 3:09 pm

Huh, wow, okay, you are describing things I'm really good at and never thought of as a skill. Let me see if I can break down some of the things that make this work for me.

For stopping people from being polite:

1) You can't expect someone to say no to you unless you are willing to say no to them. For trusted friends, I tell them that I will say no to them when I need to - and then I follow through. That helps them see it's okay.

2) I respond with gratitude and enthusiasm to a no, even a small one. If I invite someone out to dinner and they tell me they can't make it that night, I thank them for it before we talk about other options.

3) In the moment when I'm asking for help or support, I give them two choices for how they can help me. That gets them used to the idea that I'm not dictating what it means to love and support me, only giving them input that they can and should use to make wise decisions about what they want to offer.

I'm sure there's more stuff but that's a start.
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