Do you argue or fight a lot in your marriage? 

Are you and your partner fighting or arguing a lot in your relationship? If you are, even though that might feel incredibly frustrating right now... and even thought it might make you question whether your relationship is going to work--whatever you do, please don't give up on your relationship yet.

Based on my work with a huge number of couples, I've come to realize that it's actually quite normal for most couples to find themselves fighting at some point. In fact, it seems like most couples are almost programmed to fight, nag, avoid each other, or shut down at some point in their relationship.

I believe that even though this is frustrating, it's almost a rite of passage that most couples go through. And if they use it well, it actually provides them with an opportunity to completely transform their relationship for the better. But here's the important bit. It's what you do at that point that will dictate how quickly and easily you and your partner get past this phase, and take your relationship into the next great phase of your life together. And believe me, in the next part of your relationship journey you'll both feel much more connected, supported, loved and happy. Sound good? That's exactly what I'm going to help you do—if you’ll let me.

So where do you start?

There are many reasons why you might be arguing or fighting in your your relationship. But today let’s start with a big issue that can really get in the way for many couples. And that's about the perceived level of “giving” and “taking” in your relationship.

One of the major reasons why many couples start to argue, fight and bicker is because of the resentment that builds up when one person feels like they give more to the relationship, than their partner does. It's when they start to see their partner as more of a taker than a giver.

So what do I mean by givers and takers?

Givers and takers are the labels that I use for people on the two extreme levels of this dance. Givers are people who you know care about you. You know you can call on them if you need them, and they'll show up.

Maybe you have some friends or family members that are like that. You know if you call, they'll show up and try to help you. Of course they won't “always” be able to help you out, because naturally they have their own lives and their own families who they might need to focus on as well. But even at times when they can't be there because of other priorities, it will be pretty obviously that they wish they could. I call these people givers. They have good hearts and great intentions. They're considerate and thoughtful, and they care about what you need and want.

Takers, on the other hand, are very different. They come across as being far more concerned with their own needs and wants. These are people who don't really seem to consider how you feel, or what you might be going through. Now don't get me wrong, they're not bad people and on some level they might actually care about what you need. But when push comes to shove, their own needs and wants will always appear much more important to them than your needs will be.

Is a taker always a taker?

The answer to that is obviously "no". And that's because there's even more going on. As I say to my clients, I believe that most things are what I call "context sensitive".  That means that people tend to respond differently based on the situation or the context that they're facing. Just because someone you know, such as your partner, might come across as more of a taker when they're with you, that doesn't mean that they come across as a taker to everyone

For example, to you it might look like your partner is definitely taker when it comes to your relationship. It might feel like they're inconsiderate, selfish and uncaring towards you or the kids. But things might be extremely different when it comes to how they treat their friends or their work colleagues. To them, your partner might be seen as a great giver.

Many people tell me that when they were growing up they had a sister or a brother who was always really nice and available for their friends, but seemed to be really grumpy, moody and selfish around their family. This is exactly what I mean by being context sensitive. Most of us aren't the same way with everyone we know. 

And, of course, the same goes for givers. While you might be great at giving to your partner, that doesn't mean that you'll be the same with your parents, work colleagues or friends. Perhaps your sister or brother sees you as a taker rather than a giver.

So how does this affect relationships?

Before we jump straight into how this affects relationships, there's something else going on here that I want to cover briefly first.  Earlier I didn't  say that it was just about the "level of giving or taking in the relationship". I said it was about the perceived level of “giving” and “taking” in the relationship. And I said that intentionally, because the perceived level of giving and taking is actually much more important.

Here's what I mean:

You might think that you're a great giver because you do a lot of the cooking, or maybe you do most of the cleaning, or perhaps you bring in the bulk of the income for the family. But here's the thing: that doesn’t mean that your partner sees this the same way. Even though you do all of that, they might still see (or perceive) you as a taker, rather than a giver.

Confused?  Let me tell you what I mean. Your partner might not see any of those things as you "giving", at all. When you do those things, they might just believe that those are examples of you doing "what you're supposed to be doing". This is especially true if their mother or father did the same thing that you're doing. Your partner might have believed that their parent doing those things was just them doing what they were supposed to be doing--as part of their role. So that might be the same way they see all of your attempts to give.

It's how they see it that matters the most

And that means that what's really important is the perception of giving--how your partner sees you giving, and how you see them giving in your relationship.  Because we actually react to our perception of what's happening first. So even if you think you're doing a lot of giving in the relationship, your partner's perception might have you labelled as a taker instead.

And sadly, as soon as your partner starts to think that you're more of a taker than a giver, they're going to resent you for that. And it's this underlying resentment that causes major issues, fights, shut-downs and arguments. So if you and your partner are fighting a lot, it's worth checking out how they see you in terms of giving and taking.

And here's a golden tip:

Real giving isn't necessarily about what you do, or even what you think. It's about actively showing others that you care about how they're feeling, or what they're going through.

So how does your relationship stack up?

Do you and your partner have a good balance around giving and taking? Or is one of you giving more and the other one taking more?  This is really important to talk about as a couple, because if you're fighting a lot, chances are that one of you is feeling some resentment because they think the other person is more of a taker, than a giver.

As always, I’d love you to leave a comment below and share how you see your relationship in terms of this topic. And as I think about it, sharing your own experience in the comments area is actually a great sign of being a giver, because it helps others in the community, who might be struggling in their own relationship, to feel like they’re not alone. So it would be great if you’d let us know how you went when you tried out that activity. Please note that in order to prevent spam in the comments area,  all comments will be reviewed by me and my team before they become visible. So that means that your comment might not show straight away.

About Paul McNiff

Paul McNiff is a Counsellor and Psychotherapist who specialises in helping people overcome anxiety and make their relationships amazing! Paul works with couples and individuals both in-person and online in Brisbane, and also works with people throughout Australia and globally via Skype, Zoom, FaceTime and phone. His passion is helping people to completely overcome the blocks and habits that hold them back in their lives, so they can take back their power and experience freedom, joy, and a true sense of happiness.

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  1. What can I do if my boyfriend invites friends over almost everyday & I supply the drinks & I do the dishes! Its his place but I stay with him & he lets his friends sleep over & sometimes when I’m not there!I trust him but I told him I dont trust others!We’ve been together since 2009 but it feels like I give to much & he cant ever say “NO” to his friends!I stayed at my parents place for about a month because his guy friend stayed over all the time & I found out that he has a girlfriend & my so called boyfriend let them stay?!Cant he be considerate to me so I gave him an ultimatum either kick them out or I wont leave & eventually he told them to leave but guess what they back again but they not sleeping over!My previous friend almost killed me because I didn’t get jealous maybe that’s why I’m so scared & paranoid?My boyfriend says I’m the best he’s ever had but sometimes he tells me horrible things & it makes me think of leaving!He told me if I leave its over!I love him but he’s such a taker in this relationship!I dont know what to do I really want it to work!I try my best not to blame him but I do think he needs to change!He’s scaring me & he wants me to stay but he’s not being considerate towards me!He says I’m anti-social but that’s not true his friends are anti-social!I dont know what to do please help?

    1. Your relationship sounds very toxic. If he can’t support your needs and understand your concerns and make compromises, he’s not worth it. Relationships are all about being kind and respectful and understanding of your partner. You can’t change people, and as much as you love him this relationship does not sound like it’s healthy. From what you’ve said, it seems like you’ve already tried everything possible and given him a lot more lenience than he deserves. Move on from him! You deserve a whole lot better.

  2. I see myself as the taker in the relationship,and feel a lot of guilt over this. No matter what my partner does, i find reasons to be dissatisfied. I fixate on aspects of his personality he cant change, for example. Thinking about giving/taking as context sensitive is helpful for me, because its important for me to remember how in past relationships,and even at other points within this relationship, I was very much the giver. I feel like it would be helpful for me to be single at this point in my life (I’m 23) as i spent a good portion of my young adult life since I was 16 upset over romantic relationships. I think I’m just fed up over feeling upset. Even though my partner is a great giver, I don’t want to give back for some reason. Whenever I do, it’s out of a feeling of obligation. It sounds like I don’t love this person but I really do. We’ve been through a lot and he’s been my best and closest friend over the past 4 years. We’ve decided to break up because of my inability to give right now, because he deserves more than this.

  3. I think this is definitely the problem. I perceive my partner to be a taker and myself a giver and all arguments are based or centred around this. But this is based on emotional giving and taking and not materialism.

  4. My boyfriend and I definitely have a complicated relationship. He is a medically retired vet. He has ptsd, tbd, and has a drug use history. I feel like I’m always the giver and everything is always about him. One of my biggest issues and annoyance with him is that he never takes responsibility for his part in things. He deflects his guilt on to me a lot. I try my best to take into consideration that he has psychological issues and I don’t bring it up much but I’m really getting beaten down by taking the brunt of everything. I’m not saying that he is always a taker but when an issue arises he always puts the blame on others including me. I feel like he is never there to support me emotionally and I’m always there for him.
    Any suggestions on how I can make him see this without making him defensive and angry? I love being there for him but sometimes I need a shoulder to lean on too.

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