What does it mean to reciprocate in a romantic relationship? Put simply, it means that whatever applies to one of the partners also applies to the other partner. Let’s look at an example of reciprocity, one that is often a source of conflict in many relationships, using two fictional characters: Alex and Sasha.
Alex is an extremely jealous person who doesn’t allow Sasha to enjoy a drink with friends when he is not around. Because of this, Sasha never goes out in the evening unless Alex is with her. Sasha, however, is not jealous and doesn’t see any problem with Alex going out with his friends, as he pleases, regardless of the time of day or the type of activity that he and his friends engage.
This is an example of a relationship where the lack of reciprocity is obvious. In their relationship, what’s true for Alex is not true for Sasha. This example may seem extreme, but this type of situation is actually very common. Typical or not, it can be very harmful. In your romantic relationship, if you identify with Sasha, I invite you to ponder this question: Isn’t my freedom worth as much as the freedom of the person I love? Should I pay the price of his insecurities? If, conversely, you identify with Alex, take a moment to think about this: Doesn’t the person I love deserve to live a life independent of mine, to be happy and feel accomplished?
This is only one example amongst many possible ways reciprocity can be compromised. The important thing is to understand is that we can’t expect from our partner what we are not willing to offer to them. The opposite is just as unfair, and this imbalance will, sooner or later, weaken the foundations of the romantic relationship.
In any romantic relationship, we have to keep this formula in mind: 1+1=3. This means that in any relationship there are three distinct entities: a partner, the other partner, and the couple. We have a tendency to think about the ideal formula for a happy couple to look more like this 1+1=1. In this scenario, the two partners would merge together to become one. However, if we look at this closely, this formula has neither long term viability or health for either partner. It implies that each person gives up a part of their identity for the benefit of the couple in the name of love. Is this really desirable?
In the formula I suggest, each partner has personal space and is respected as a full individual. 1+1=3 suggests that each partner’s personality, wants, and projects are valued, but, also, that the couple is its own entity. This description of a couple doesn’t minimize the importance of the romantic relationship–on the contrary. It doesn’t banish compromises either since they are also important to have in a balanced relationship. It simply valorizes equality and balance in the couple, so that each partner can feel fulfilled and flourish fully.
In short, each partner engaged in a healthy romantic relationship should respect the choices and decisions of the other, as long as they are ethical, responsible, and fair. In the kind of relationships where each of the partners acts responsibly (i.e. doesn’t put their life or that of others in danger and doesn’t take undue risks), neither of the partners is in a position where they can “authorize” the other to do anything. Each of the partners should decide for themselves. To find balance in our relationships, it is then important to come out of the parent-child dynamic to find harmony between two adults who decide together to grow alongside each other.
What does normal mean? This is a question that we see often and for good reason. In romantic relationships, as in life in general, there shouldn’t be standards that we follow. As we well know, a relationship is made up of two individuals with different personalities and totally different pasts. Even if it is important to have laws telling us what is acceptable to say or do to another person, there is no right or wrong way to be together as long as each person and their happiness is being respected within the relationship.
For example, we commonly expect that a happy couple shares a bed. A couple who decides to sleep in separate beds without apparent reason is quickly judged as strange. To a lot of people, their union can be perceived as unhappy or unbalanced. However, there is nothing wrong with making these types of decisions, especially if it guarantees balance and long-lasting happiness. This applies to all the areas of a romantic relationship. Whether it be sexuality, communication styles, shared responsibilities or finances…each of us is free to build our relationships however we please.
For this reason, it is important to distinguish between the notion of a healthy or unhealthy relationship and whether a relationship follows the societal norms that we are used to. To say it simply: If you feel fulfilled by your relationship, if it makes you grow as a person and matches with who you are, how it is seen by others is irrelevant. However, if you feel like you aren’t being respected and free to act and make decisions in your romantic relationship or that you are no longer happy, it’s important that you ask yourself the right questions. You can, of course, use the points described in this article to determine which category your relationship falls into. In any case, we are here to read about your story if you feel like sharing with us and the readers, so don’t hesitate to comment.