Are You ‘Giving to Get’ Love in Relationships?

Are You Playing the ‘Giving to Get’ Game in Relationships?

Is this you? Are you doing kind things over and over for others in order to get love?

This subconscious (and dysfunctional) relationship tactic might go something like: “If I give you this (or do this for you) then you’ll give me love (or treat me like I’m important/worthwhile).” And it’s destined for disaster.


Giving with an expectation of getting something in return is a common game we play on ourselves and in relationships.

Reciprocity (give and take) is built on the concept of mutuality; with both people participating. But when you’re playing the “giving to get” game, it’s far from mutual. The game is born out of a feeling of lack, and it ends in emotional pain. That lack is that you might feel needy, unimportant, not “good enough,” unlovable or unworthy exactly as you are.

In a “giving to get” cycle, one person ends up doing most of the giving, the niceties and forgiving while the other person is on the receiving end of all that kindness. Whether or not they asked for it.

In your mind you may think “they ought to love me, after all I’ve done.” You may not even know you do this, you may just wonder why you’ve ended up disappointed in relationships. “After all I’ve done for you, how can you treat me this way?”

May I gently remind you: it was your choice to do all that doing, no one made you do it. But the consequences remain that you may have given all of yourself to someone who wasn’t giving the same back.


Giving out of a sense of wholeness is different than “giving to get” love; that’s when you are doing nice things because it feels good, and you expect nothing in return. It’s altruistic and kind, with no strings attached.


Giving out of a sense of wholeness is different than “giving to get” love.
Why it’s vitally important to become aware of this cycle: If you play this game in relationships it won’t end well.
You’ll feel taken for granted, unappreciated, or worse unloved. It hurts. You may convince yourself in the beginning that you’re just being kind, accommodating, cooperative and that’s ‘what good people do.’ Eventually, however, you’ll find yourself feeling drained, and you just can’t figure out the right way to be, or the right things to do to in order to make the relationship work. Once you’ve start the cycle, it’s hard to break it unless you become aware that you’re in it. You’re convinced that this is how you have to act or what you have to do to become worthy in a relationship.

What does it look like? This varies from person to person, but the theme circles around giving of yourself: time, money, effort, acts of service, attention, energy, niceties, words, etc. to get something in return. Usually we give to get love, attention or acknowledgement.

It can look like always doing favors for the people you date. The giving could be doing little or big favors, picking up groceries, getting them cards, being available 24/7, or showing them all the little ways that you thought about them during the day. They always come first and you might think that’s a good thing. You may say something to yourself that sounds altruistic like, “If my partner is happy then I’ll be happy. I don’t need much. Having them feel good or know how much I care will help me find happiness.”

It can also extend to forgiving slights; always trying to ‘be cool’ and not bring up conflicts or talk about what’s bothering you; not wanting to make a big deal of them being late or not reciprocating; letting them contact you for a date at a moment’s notice; always being ready to see them; or making it really easy to see you or get ahold of you.

It’s as if being yourself or you being you isn’t enough to be lovable, so you have to do things to get love or be lovable.
On their own, none of these things are problematic. The problem comes in when you do these things in an effort to get love.

It’s as if being yourself or you being you isn’t enough to be lovable, so you have to do things to get love/be lovable. The question isn’t what are you doing but why are you doing it?

In our book on setting healthy boundaries (on Amazon), dating coach and fellow GMP writer Sandy Weiner and I discuss this very topic.

Where does it come from? Clients have said, “I defined my worth through service to other people and until I saw what I was doing—I thought this was just how relationships worked.”

“It’s how I do a lot for people, because I thought helping them or serving them I’d find my value.”

“I thought in order to be a good person I had to help my partner constantly.”

“I never expected much back—I was trying to give to be lovable, like ‘I need you to see that I’m a good person so you know I’m worth loving.’

If you were raised in a household where you had to earn the right to be loved, or do things to be considered good and get love or acknowledgement in return, you might become someone preconditioned to “give to get.”

It can also from a conditional feeling of love as a child—you weren’t enough exactly as you are so you had to work at being loved. That same cycle of working hard to get love perpetuates into adulthood, and you can’t figure out why you never fully feel loved.


In the next article on this topic, I’ll go into 7 ways you can break the cycle of “giving to get” and start toward finding mutually beneficial relationships where your partner loves and acknowledges you without playing into the cycle.

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