According to Adam Grant, Wharton’s most popular and youngest-tenured faculty member and author of Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success, people fall into three distinct categories: Givers, Matchers and Takers.
Grant’s book was written for a business audience, but its theories provide extraordinary insight into romantic relationships as well—and which of these categories you fall into may well determine the success and happiness of your relationship.
For example, has a romantic relationship ever made you feel like you were not good enough? Have you ever been taken advantage of by a romantic partner? Have you ever felt like you gave everything to someone and ended up completely worn out? Then you may just fall into the “Giver” style of romantic partner.
Interestingly, while the Giver style may have its drawbacks, Givers are also usually the most attractive partners and most likely to have long-term relationships. A study examining the trait most highly valued in potential romantic partners suggests that both men and women rate kindness as one of their most desired traits. Moreover, Givers are also most likely to be affectionate, a trait which strongly determines the long-term success of a relationship (as I describe here), not to mention their own longevity.
To understand where you fit, and how to best navigate your relationships with others, here’s a summary of the 3 styles of romantic partners.
Givers are people whose primary motivation is to take care of others, to make sure others are well, and to contribute to others and society. In a relationship, these are people who are always thinking about gifts for their partner, who take their partners’ interests into consideration, and who are always thinking “What else can I do for you?” They’re pretty awesome. As Grant mentions in his book—everyone likes having givers around because they are always happy to contribute and thinking of others. They understand the relationship as an opportunity to give and take care.
Givers often end up thinking there is something wrong with them when they are unhappy in a relationship. They are the ones who think they are not lovable or good enough because they take personal responsibility for making the relationship work (rather than blaming their partners). They can end up burned out and exhausted, from continuously giving at their own cost if they do not receive the support they need from the relationship.
Matchers tend to keep a balance sheet in any relationship. When Matchers give, they do so with an expectation of getting something in return. When they receive something, they feel like they have to give something back. Matchers are the ones who keep tabs and view relationships as somewhat like a commercial transaction. They are the ones who are most likely to say something like: “I did this for you, but you didn’t do that for me,” or “You paid for this, so I’ll pay for that.”
Takers are just that—takers. They usually treat people well only if and when those people can help them reach their goals. Interestingly, Grant points out that they often appear as the most charming and charismatic people on the surface. They know how to work the crowd and seduce, but under the surface, they are primarily motivated by self-interest. You can recognize a Taker by how poorly they treat people they believe are of no use to them. You know you’re in a relationship with a Taker when you feel sucked dry for all you have—money, affection, time, etc. Once the Taker has everything they want, you may be relegated to the “unimportant” sphere of their life.
So Who is Most Successful in Relationships?
Grant has a fascinating conclusion about who, among these 3 styles, is happiest and most successful: It's the Givers. And who is the least successful? Also Givers.
How is that possible?
Givers who learn to successfully navigate a world with Matchers and Takers fare very well. Everyone loves Givers, trusts them, and supports them when they are in need. So why are Givers also the least successful? Because some don’t figure out how to navigate that world and, as a consequence, end up being taken advantage of. If you’re a Giver, you’ve probably been there at least once, professionally or personally.
Imagine a relationship between a Giver and a Taker? It may end up with the Giver completely worn out, having perhaps spent their savings, time and energy on someone who keeps demanding more and hardly ever provides for their partners’ needs, unless they do so temporarily because it behooves them at that moment.
So what makes a successful Giver? Grant’s book features a list of tips, but one that stood out to me was the idea of becoming a “Giver with awareness.” Awareness of what? Basically, that the world has Givers, Matchers, and Takers, and that if you watch people’s words and actions, you will know who's who. When you navigate romantic relationships, friendships or business partnerships, investigate which category your potential partner belongs to and don’t get blown away by first impressions. (As noted above, Takers are masters of first impression charm). Then what? In a non-romantic situation, you can deal with Matchers and Takers by trying to adopt a Matcher-like attitude. Start speaking in terms like, “OK, we have an agreement: You will do this and in exchange I will do this.”
What about in romantic relationships? I conferred with Grant while writing this article and he shared the following tip about long-term love: "In the most successful relationships, both partners are Givers."
He continued: "In other words, when a romantic relationship works, even Matchers and Takers are focused on giving. Both partners might give in different ways, but they should be willing to support each other without expecting something in return. That said, when things get too far out of balance, I think we all become Matchers."
Imagine a relationship where both partners are always caring for each other’s needs. When there is a fight, both are quick to offer, “I’m sorry, it was my fault.” Both live their life with their partner’s best interest in mind.
If you can recognize yourself as a Matcher or Taker, first of all, congratulations on being so honest with yourself. Of course, because of Givers’ affectionate and service-oriented qualities, it is probably in your best interest to find a partner who is a Giver. However, I’d like you to consider 2 things:
First, Givers will never be fully happy unless you support them as they support you. They will eventually feel worn out and perhaps even leave. In a recent study by Amie Gordon at the University of California, Berkeley, those who experienced more gratitude in their relationship also felt closer to their partner and more satisfied with the relationship, and they tended to engage in more constructive and positive behaviors within the relationship. Ultimately, for a good relationship that benefits you, you will want your partner to be happy and will want to support them in return.
Second, as Grant’s book outlines, Givers are the ones who end up being most successful and happy if they watch out not to be taken advantage of. A body of research now shows that a lifestyle comprised of kindness and service leads to greater personal fulfillment, as well as health and happiness. If you want to be happy and successful, it therefore behooves you too to become a Giver.
For more of my articles on how to make a relationship thrive, see here and here and here.
To stay updated on the science of happiness, health and social connection, see emmaseppala.com.
Emma is the founder of Fulfillment Daily, science-based news for a happier life.
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© 2014 Emma Seppala, Ph.D.
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