The ability to receive gracefully and fully may not seem to be 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. Many of us give regularly of our time and money. We want to be givers, to be better. But, if givers are “better”, wouldn’t that make receivers somehow “less than”?

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

We’ve all seen a small manifestation of this:  Two 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.

Moral high ground may sound overblown for such mundane incidents, but let’s think back to the last discussion over who would pick up the tab for a meal. How did the interaction feel?

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

What if others never let us pay? Sure, that sounds great financially, but it can be limiting to the relationship. If we know they’re always going to pay, we may feel we have to order the cheapest thing, no matter what we 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”, and the relationship becomes unbalanced.

We get such a lovely, glowing feeling when we give a gift, physical or emotional, that is appreciated by the receiver. 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.