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“The single most important skill for maintenance of a relationship is reciprocity.” Author and consultant Dave Hingsburger said this at a recent workshop. He was referring to anyone who wished to maintain a healthy relationship, whether intimate or not.

Reciprocity is a social concept meaning that people should give back what others give to them. I think of reciprocity as an equal give and take by people within a relationship. Some of us are better at this than others.

Whether we give more or take more in a relationship may be dependent on how we were raised and the expectations placed on us growing up. It could also be correlated to our gender, culture, socioeconomic status and age. But whether or not we are a giver, a taker or somewhere in the middle, reciprocity is a skill. A skill that can be learned if you choose to learn it.

Some people are naturally likeable. We all know likeable people. People with lots of friends and social skills, people we want to be around. Chances are these people have the skill of reciprocity. People only have so much tolerance for a person who is constantly taking and never giving back. We become resentful.

Whether this person is a co-worker, friend, lover or partner, if you feel you are giving everything to a relationship and not getting anything in return, you will probably wish to end the relationship, or at the very least take a step back to evaluate its meaning and necessity in your life.

There are many ways reciprocity plays out within a relationship. It can be in the sharing, or not sharing, of feelings, money, chores, child duties, cooking duties, food, and time. It can be the simple act of saying in return, “I’m fine, how are you?” or, “How was your day?.” Simply showing interest in the other person can go a long way in them liking you and wanting to maintain a relationship with you. If someone is selfish and only cares about themself, they may end up being in a relationship only with themself.

Everyone has different types of relationships and spoken or unspoken rules about how these relationships play out. Maybe you take out the garbage and they wash the dishes, or you pick up the coffee in the morning and they pay for it. The amount of give and take in a relationship may change over time, especially with children and aging. People have the capacity to give less at some points in their life.

The key is whether or not you are happy and satisfied with the amount you are giving and taking within a relationship, because if if you are not, the relationship may not stand the test of time.