The ability to receive gracefully and fully may not seem like a likely issue in conflict resolution. When we think of the conflicts that arise from imbalances in giving and receiving, we usually think of too much taking and not enough giving. After all, aren’t we told it’s better to give than receive?

It’s great to give. Most of us give regularly of our time and money. But is giving always better than receiving? If all of us always wanted to be givers rather than receivers, who would we all give to? And doesn’t that make receivers somehow “less than”?

This is where conflicts can occur in the dance of giving and receiving. Some people may want to be the biggest giver, but gaining a reputation as a really kind person can become over-emphasized. It can become their habit only to give, never to receive.

We’ve all seen a common manifestation of this: Diners in a restaurant arguing over who will pick-up the tab. We joke about this situation, but there’s a subtle and real dance going on here about who gets to be the nicest, the most giving – and claim the moral high ground of generosity.

That may sound overblown for such mundane incidents, but think back to the last time you discussed who would pick up the tab for a meal. How did the interaction feel?

If things are generally in balance between you and the other diner, it may have been unmemorable and you probably came to agreement fairly rapidly. “Okay, you can get it this time & I’ll get it next time” or “Let’s split it/get separate checks”. If a significant imbalance develops over time, though, it may begin to impact the relationship negatively.

What if they never let you pay? This may sound great financially, but it can be limiting to the relationship. If you know they’re always going to pay, you may feel you have to order the cheapest thing, no matter what you would like to eat. More significantly, if one person always pays, it binds the relationship into one pattern that hinders growth and change.

For example, in a family, as children grow older, the day eventually comes when the adult child offers to pay for a shared meal with their parents. This is an indication of the child wanting to show that they have reached adulthood, that they are moving into a different phase of life in which they no longer need to be supported by their parents. It is the mature parent indeed who can accept the offer and be “treated” to the meal by their grown offspring!

Between friends, paying for a meal says “I value you; I want to be your friend.” If the same person always pays, there’s no opportunity for the other friend to reciprocate, to say, “I want to be your friend, too.” When one person makes a point to always pay, the other person incurs a debt with no opportunity to repay the “favor”.

It’s such a lovely, glowing feeling you get when you give a gift, physical or emotional, that is well-received and appreciated by the receiver. If you’re always striving to be the giver, you never allow those around you the opportunity to experience that wonderful warm feeling.

Giver and receiver are roles that need to fluctuate over time – neither is healthy as a person’s sole defining characteristic. To get along well, we must allow ourselves to receive sometimes in order to allow those around us to enjoy the gift of giving.