How to Give Without Giving In

Relationships are one of the most challenging — and potentially rewarding — aspects of our lives.   The main challenge of relationships is that other people make requirements of us.   You know, things like thoughtfulness, patience, forgiveness, helping around the house, expressions of love, verbal affirmations, touch, time, listening, and the list goes on and on.   Put simply, relationships require us to give of ourselves, particularly our closest relationships.    Here are a few thoughts on how we can give in relationships — without giving in or giving out!

1. Take Care of Yourself.   I once had a young woman referred to me for treatment of depression.  During our initial session, it became evident very quickly that, much of her life she had been waiting on someone else – a man particularly – to make her feel better about herself and her life.  Her primary goal was to make a man love her, so she could feel OK with herself.  I told her sincerely, “No one else can meet your needs for you.  This is something you will have to learn to do for yourself.”  She stared at me as if she had seen a ghost.   Sadly, she never returned.

Yes it is true that we are to bear one another’s burdens.  If married, we have a responsibility to cherish and care for our spouse as no other.   Yet our own happiness, or lack thereof, ultimately depends on how much we choose to trust our Savior and apply the eternal principles which he has revealed and will yet reveal to us.   The purpose of His commandments and His Holy Spirit is to guide us in living after the manner of happiness.

Though we may love to be taken care of, we cannot give this responsibility away.  Though some may try, no one else can take this responsibility over for us.  This is yours and mine alone to do, with God’s help.   By relying upon our Savior’s care and guidance, we need not “build our house upon the sand” of worldly circumstance or “trust in the arm of flesh” by depending solely upon another mortal.

There are many different and important aspects of self-care — things like proper sleep, nutrition, exercise, spiritual nourishment, pacing ourselves, recreation, etc.  A vital part of this self-care is that we are careful not to knowingly violate our own spiritual sense.   If we do so, we lose spiritual light and fear begins to set in.  At such times, we no longer see rightly, and no other person or external circumstance can restore our peace.  Our tendency at times like these is to unknowingly blame other people or circumstances for our own inner turmoil.

Actions that set us at war with ourselves and others are referred to in the scriptures as “sin.”  The apostle James described sin’s effect upon us when he said, “From whence come wars and fightings among you?  Come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members?”  (James 4: 1).   The Savior described the same hazardous effects when he said, “And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold”  (Matthew 24: 12).  Not one of us is without sin; however it is crucial to our emotional well-being and to our relationships that we keep ourselves as free from sin as possible through prayer, obedience, and repentance.

2. Think “Us.”    Over and over again, we see the very human tendency to pit our needs and wants against those of another, i.e. “It is either my way or his/hers;”  “Why do we always have to do it your way!”  In a marriage relationship with this mentality, either we get two people grappling for power; two people shutting down emotionally and trying to bury their emotions (very avoidant, don’t usually come in for counseling or not until it’s too late); or we have one person becoming subservient to the needs of the other.   In any form, this “I versus You” mentality kills a marriage relationship.

The Savior taught this principle:  “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”   I think it most significant that he did not say, “almost as much as thyself.”   It is equally instructive that he did not say, “more than thyself.”   He said as thyself.   When we look at any relationship in this way, we see two equals, and we ask what is best for US as a whole, not just me or you.   Such a perspective brings unity, and makes room for sacrifice, forgiveness, and patience.   It allows us to become an important part of the whole without being the center of the universe.   And it encourages communication and teamwork.

3. Let Go of Demands.    Sometimes we put a lot of effort into getting someone else to change.  Many couples arrive in the therapy office for this very reason.  As a rule, the more we try to control another, the less influence we will have over the long term.   Ask yourself:   How do I react when someone directly or indirectly communicates, “I will love you when . . . ?”  Don’t you naturally want to withdraw or retaliate?  Sometimes we may actually feel desperate to change in such a scenario — but even then, our very desperation short-circuits our ability to love.

Similarly, when you do something for another, don’t do it for the expectation of a reward.   Love is an action word.  To love another is to extend myself for another’s benefit, not my own.   To act with expectation of reward is not love; it is manipulation.   And manipulation undermines the foundation of trust necessary for a healthy relationship.   If we do try to control another, we will make the situation even worse.   Furthermore, it only sets us up for disappointment!

Yet how often, honestly, have you or I tried to “change” someone else?  When we set our hearts on some change in others, we make our happiness conditional on something over which we have ZERO control.   So why not let go of all our demands and expectations and practice loving people for just who they are!   Isn’t this precisely how you and I want to be loved?  Loving unconditionally will bring a freedom and an easiness to your relationships.   It will indeed create the spiritual soil where wonderful, loving relationships can grow!

4. Do It Because You Want To.   Often I have heard myself or others say, when uncertain about a requirement that appears to have been laid upon us, “I don’t want to, but I should  . . . . .”  With such a mindset,  we can only do one of two things:  give in or resist.   In either case, we have failed to take full responsibility for our own choice, and will feel some form of “lousy” as a a result.

There is an alternative.   If I feel  I “should” take some loving action, I can consider the effects such a choice is likely to have on me and upon the relationship.   If these seem favorable all things considered, I can decide – whether or not I feel like it at the moment – that I really do want to take that action.  I can own it fully as my own choice.   Easy.  No need to resist.  No need to give in.   I can act with my whole heart and feel  good about it.

5.  Or Don’t Do It at All!  If for some reason I cannot take that action with my whole heart, if I deep down cannot feel good about it for whatever reason, love does not require that I agree  – directly or passively — to something with which I am uncomfortable.   Nor is it even required that we fully understand or can explain our reasons.   Taking care of ourselves does not require justification, anymore than caring for others does!   I can just say something like, “I don’t feel good about that.”   And give your spouse or friend an opportunity to love you unconditionally!

Your questions or feedback are always welcome!

Warmest Regards!




3 Responses to “How to Give Without Giving In”

  1. Joan Says:

    So very well said! Thank you for taking the time to articulate your thoughts and share them. These are very wise words, indeed!

  2. Joan Says:

    I want to add that when we don’t take care of ourselves, we may be forcing a burden on someone else and society at large. For example, if I do not care for my physical needs in a healthy and responsible way, my body may deteriorate unnecessarily forcing a decision on my loved ones on how they will care for–and pay for–my increasing medical costs. When we mistreat our bodies, we are mistreating those who love us and who will have to make those difficult decisions. When we do not make healthy choices in any area of our lives, those choices ripple into other peoples’ lives as well.

  3. Dave Says:

    Thank you for your supportive and insightful remarks Joan! Very good point about our choices rippling into others’ lives!