It’s always fascinating when people identify themselves as ‘the giver’ in the relationship. With that self-ordained moniker, it’s clear that they’re unable to perceive how the other gives and participates, and more pointedly, they fail to recognize how they themselves ‘take’ from their partners. It’s problematic on a number of levels: the identified giver becomes the martyr who ostensibly sacrifices his/her own needs – while the other is usually made to feel unappreciative or guilty. The ‘ingrate’ may try to ‘make it up’ to the giver, but mostly they end up feeling increasingly pulled away and, not surprisingly, sexually turned off. That feeling starts early: one of their caretakers often made them feel indebted and they thus came to feel that they owed their parent something. And, via such role modeling, our current ‘giver’ learned the benefits of being ‘owed’.
Vince describes how he makes a nest that ‘no one will want to leave’; he prepares or orders enticing meals, he acquires all of the most current technological gadgets and he makes sure everything is cozy and warm. But Laurence isn’t having it; he comes and stays for a while but always leaves, often fleeing back to the old boyfriend of whom he’s still enamored (who isn’t trying to manipulate him). He’s told Vince more than once, “I’m always sensing the part of you that desperately needs me to stay – and it just makes me want to run”.
Debra is constantly irritable with Emilio for avoiding sex with her. She harangues him frequently, often behaving sullenly and moping around the house. But she avoids looking at the fact that she maintains inordinate expectations of Emilio to “give back’. She pays for most of their living and travel expenses, she makes lavish meals, she stays home waiting for him – and then expects that he should be grateful and show more affection. And she reminds him incessantly of everything she does for him. But it’s stultifying because Emilio ‘owed’ so much to his own self-ordained ‘ever-sacrificing’ mother – with whom he thus felt no control over his own life. So he can’t bear it when Debra does the same thing – to the extent that he cringes at the idea of having sex with her, or even being at home with her.
Most of us don’t want someone to sit home and wait for us. ‘Givers’ do that due to their own insecurities and inabilities to go out and create lives of their own – and because they can’t bear to be apart. But it just ends in the other feeling guilty- with the concomitant sensation of wanting to avoid the person who arouses that in them.
Andy used to often remind Zinn that he does so much; her accounting, helping her with her mail, getting up on a weekend morning and cleaning her utility closet (which actually used to freak her out). And he’d say – ‘but what do you do for me ?” Zinn would be shocked in those moments thinking, “But I provide all of the interest in this relationship; he’s addicted to my energy, to my excitement, to experiencing things with me because I derive such joy from everything (which he’s unable do on his own). And his guilt-laying was exactly what her parents used to do. But although it did induce a sense of failure to please him, it functioned to make her pull further and further away from Andy until even the great sex they had was no longer the cement it once was.
The ‘giver’ needs to control by having the other become beholden to him (because givers know no other way of getting loved). Taking on the role of caretaker at an early age (see “Parentified Children”) happens for a variety of reasons, e.g., one or both parents are physically, emotionally and/or financially/economically disabled, burdened, or overly anxious in some way. Thus, if the child takes on this role, the wish/hope is that they’ll make the parent well enough to finally be the parent who can actually take care of them.
Furthermore, the care-taking becomes an important source of feeling enabled and robust and, even more critically, loved/needed/admired by the parents. So the role ‘sticks’ into adulthood, and the person unwittingly continues to enter relationships from this platform. Many people become parentified children in some way but not all end up using the Giver role as their brand. One of the problems with it is that they invariably become resentful of the people to whom they give, and the resentment manifests in constant demands for affection and assurance. It is for these reasons that they lose the very person they’d sought to ‘keep’ forever.
But there are far healthier ways to be loved.