The Best-Kept Secret to a Highly Successful Relationship
... and the 2 issues you need to address to be (or get) a great partner.
Posted Nov 04, 2013
According to Adam Grant, author of Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success (and Wharton’s most popular faculty member), people fall into three distinct categories: Givers, Matchers, and Takers.
Grant wrote his book for a business audience, but his theories provide extraordinary insight into romantic relationships as well. Which of those 3 categories you fall into may well determine the success and happiness of your relationship.
For example, has a relationship ever made you feel like you were not good enough? Has a romantic partner ever taken advantage of you? Have you ever felt like you gave everything to someone and ended up completely worn out? Then you may be the “Giver” style of partner. Interestingly, while the Giver style has its drawbacks, Givers are also usually the most attractive partners—and the most likely to have long-term relationships. A study examining the trait people most highly valued in potential romantic partners suggested that both men and women rate kindness near the top. Further, Givers are more likely to be affectionate, a trait which strongly determines the long-term success of a relationship, not to mention one's own longevity.
To understand where you fit, and how to best navigate your relationships with others, here are fuller summaries of the three styles of partner:
Givers' primary motivation is to take care of others, to make sure others are well, and to contribute to others and society. In a relationship, they are always thinking about gifts for their partner, they take their partners’ interests into consideration, and they ask, "What else can I do for you?” So, they’re pretty awesome. As Grant writes, everyone likes having givers around because they think of others and are always happy to contribute. They understand a relationship as an opportunity to give and take care.
Givers, however, often end up thinking there is something wrong with them if they are unhappy in a relationship. They may think they are not lovable or good enough because they have taken 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 they give, they do so with an expectation of getting something in return. When they receive, 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. And they are the ones 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, they often appear as the most charming and charismatic people—on the surface. They know how to work the crowd and seduce, but their primary motivation is 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 they suck you dry for all you have—money, affection, time, etc. Once the Taker has everything they want, they may relegate you to the “unimportant” sphere of their life.
Who Is Most Successful in Relationships?
Grant has a fascinating conclusion about who, among these three styles, is happiest and most successful—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 them, trusts them, and supports them when they are in need. So why are Givers also the least successful? Because some of them don’t figure out how to navigate a world full of Matchers and Takers, and others end up taking advantage of them. 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 with the Giver completely worn out, having perhaps spent their savings, time, and energy on someone who keeps demanding more. The Taker also hardly ever provides for a partner's needs, unless they do so temporarily because it behooves them at that moment.
So what makes a successful Giver? Grant offers 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, so we agree: You will do this, and in exchange, I will do this.”
What about in romantic relationships? I conferred with Grant, who shared the following tip about long-term love:
"In the most successful relationships, both partners are Givers...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 in which both partners always care for each other’s needs. When there is a fight, both are quick to offer apologies. Both live their lives with their partner’s best interest in mind.
If you can recognize yourself as a Matcher or Taker, congratulations on being so honest with yourself. Of course, because of Givers’ affectionate, service-oriented qualities, it's probably in your best interest to find a partner who is a Giver. However, I’d like you to consider two things:
- Givers will never be truly 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. They also 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 outlines, Givers are the ones who end up being most successful and happy if they watch out for people taking advantage of them. 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 behooves you too to become a Giver.
For more on the science of happiness, see my new book The Happiness Track.
© 2014 Emma Seppala, Ph.D.
Photo credit: http://www.imagesbyjaime.com/