• Close relationships have a knack of bringing up personal difficulties around intimacy, dependency and openness

  • Relationship coach and therapist Agnieszka Burban explores the importance of give and take within relationships

  • If you are struggling in your relationships, find a therapist here 

A lovely morning cup of cappuccino is standing on my desk right now. My partner brought it to me with a smile. He loves doing it. He loves... doing things for me: making me coffee, preparing meals, planning trips, making sure the right hotel is booked, making sure we have things to do when we are away.

Why am I telling you all this?

Because this is an example of who I would consider a highly masculine energy man. I understand this energy as a man who loves to give. They love to give freely. It makes them happy to do things for their partner. Why?

Because when they do, and we show them how these things make us happy, when we smile when we see our morning coffee, when we appreciate what they do for us, they feel deeply rewarded. 

When I say, "Thank you! When you bring me my morning coffee, it makes me feel so loved and cared for" - I mean it.

This way of appreciating someone can make all the difference in the world in intimate relationships. The secret here is that we refer to how the action of another makes us feel:

“It feels so good when you ask about my day, this makes me feel you really care.”

“When you fix me dinner in the evening, it makes me feel so happy as I feel so cared for by you.”

When you connect with your feelings whilst expressing genuine gratitude, you suddenly transform a standard “thank you”, into a message that reaches the heart and forms an emotional connection.

Many of my female clients struggle to receive during the dating process or in a relationship. Equally, going back to the coffee from the example above, I could make my own coffee. Or, I could make coffee for both of us. I could turn it into a habit, take over all the cooking, take over all the planning.

But the thing is, this wouldn't make my partner happy. When a partner loves to give in a relationship, not being able to can lead to feelings of uselessness and disconnection. 

This doesn’t mean that I don’t lift a finger and do not do anything in this relationship. Absolutely not. It simply means, that it is important to be open to receiving. Some common examples of where my female clients struggle with the concept of receiving:

  • receiving a gift
  • receiving a compliment
  • allowing their date to pay for their coffee
  • letting someone carry a heavy bag for you
  • allowing your husband to cook a meal

I've had to learn to be able to receive fully and allow myself to be open to receiving without feeling the urge to have to do things in return. I used to source a lot of value from doing things for men. Looking after them even. Or trying to save them.

In my previous relationship, I was close to being a nurse figure. Yes, he did have issues with anxiety and problems coping with everyday things like co-ordinating activities at home, cooking, time management.

So, what did I do?

I was there doing and doing things. The cooking, the cleaning, the looking after. Does this sound familiar?

This behaviour is usually motivated by thinking that we are not worthy of love and we have to earn it by doing nice things for another. It also goes with an expectation:

"He will notice it - He will appreciate it - he will see how much I do for him (or, "see how much I love him") - He will reciprocate with loving me back."

Unfortunately, this way of thinking and acting isn't likely going to get someone to love us.

Instead, it may work to the detriment of your relationship, which should be a partnership. When our behaviour is sourced from a sense of low self-worth and feelings of being unloveable, it will be reflected by love being withdrawn from us. When we give too much, do too much to get someone to love us, we are often acting with covert, ulterior motives. We do things because we expect something in return.

And if we follow that route, we will inevitably end up feeling not only exhausted from all the doing and investing without reciprocation, but also we will accumulate feelings of resentment and anger towards our partner. And these very feelings – if not addressed - will start corroding the relationship.

I invite you to reflect and journal on the following:

  1. How comfortable are you about receiving from another?
  2. What words do you use to appreciate someone when they do something for you?
  3. If it is a simple “thank you”, can you think of one example of how you could use your feelings in a thank you message to fully express your gratitude and make an emotional connection with the other person?

Agnieszka Burban is an online CBT therapist and relationship coach 

Further reading

Meet the therapist: Agnieszka Burban

How therapy helped me find the right relationship

Why dating tips might not work for you

Relationship therapy saved our marriage