A relationship expert with over 25 years experience counselling couples, individuals and families.

Jill Goldson: Why a relationship fails

Ever felt you have nothing left to give? Chances are you're in a relationship with a Taker. Photo / iStock
Ever felt you have nothing left to give? Chances are you're in a relationship with a Taker. Photo / iStock

When clients are seeking understanding about why their relationship appears to be falling apart, one of the signposts can often be what previous generations have termed the "need to give and take". It's hardly outdated as a piece of advice, but has recently been elevated into a serious study, and become the subject of a popular book.

Adam Grant, academic and researcher at University of Pennsylvania, is the author of Give and take: A revolutionary approach to success. In his book he claims that people fall into one of three categories: Givers, Matchers and Takers. His book is essentially written for a business audience - but it also gives good insight into romantic relationships as well.


A somewhat unsurprising fact, validated by research, is that kindness is rated as the trait most highly valued in potential romantic partners. So those who are Givers - who tend to be strongly motivated to care for and contribute to others - are sought after.

Who wouldn't prefer to be with someone for whom a relationship is about an opportunity to give and to cherish?

Sadly though, it is the Givers who often think that there is something wrong with them if things go awry - and they become emotionally exhausted if they do not receive the support they need from the relationship. Over-responsibility can spawn
under-responsibility. Significantly these people can also end up feeling angry, aggrieved, and martyred.


Who doesn't know about the psychology of Takers - apart from, depressingly often, the Takers themselves? Takers treat other people well if those people can help them reach their goals. Working the crowd and seducing, they are driven by self interest.

They tend not to be very interested at all in other people if they are viewed to have little value to them. Sadly this takes place within the relationship with their partner over time. Their craft is to get as much out of life, and from their relationships, as they possibly can.

Charisma and charm come naturally, but once they shed their sheep's clothing and reveal themselves, it's hard to stop seeing them forever more as a wolf.

Ever felt you have nothing left to give? Chances are you're in a relationship with a Taker. How conscious they are of their inexorable need to take is a whole other question.


And then there are the hybrids - also known as "Matchers". These people keep ledgers and balance sheets. Matchers give with a view to getting something in return. They view relationships almost as a transaction.

But they can be chameleons too: If surrounded by Givers they will become Givers and if by Takers, then they will be Takers. Okay enough in the workplace, but it can be bit like accountancy 101 in the relationship.

Have you ever seen those tiny male and female figures who moved in and out of a little German weather house? In sunshine the lady pops out, and rain, the man. Sometimes they stood parallel to each other.

A bit like characters in the weather house, all three categories can appear and disappear in the complex dance of love. My client Robin suggested to me that he felt he had three personalities: The Giver, who did all he could to make his partner happy, the Taker who followed his instinct that he must also make himself happy even if this didn't necessarily make his partner happy, and the Matcher who locks horns with his partner, and counts the beads on the abacus to see who owes who.

Paradoxically,it is the Givers who are both the most happy and successful, as well as the least happy and very unsuccessful in life. So even when everyone loves Givers, when they don't know how to set limits and are taken advantage of, there are poor consequences for their wellbeing in the workplace or in close relationships.

So what happens when the Taker is taking control and is full of angry outbursts and demands and disrespect, or the Giver retreats in hurt grief at the betrayal of his or her needs?

The critical balance has been lost. And this occurs for many reasons. And if sitting down and talking it out doesn't work, then get some professional help fairly quickly. Because left to fester, the Givers will see the Takers as exploiters who have used them, and the Takers will see the Givers as changing the rules and becoming critics, and the Matchers will say it is impossible to find a balance, and that the relationship is chronically unhappy. And resentment will edge in fairly rapidly.

Being a Giver with awareness - an awareness that the world has Givers, Takers and Matchers in it -seems to be the sweet spot according to relationship research on thousands of couples.

And whilst you can shrewdly sum up the attributes of your new colleague and adopt a Matcher attitude when you spot a Taker at the staff meeting, it's not quite so easy in romantic relationships.

But In the end, the prognosis is very straightforward: Givers will never be happy if they feel unsupported. And Takers will struggle with their sense of entitlement being challenged. Matchers will keep the scales even -until it all feels a bit too mechanistic.

Listen to the research

A lifestyle studded with kindness and generosity creates fulfilment as well as health and happiness. Give and give more - just as long as the person you are giving to appreciates you and gives to you in return.

And you won't need a calculator to know if this balance feels right.

- nzherald.co.nz

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

A relationship expert with over 25 years experience counselling couples, individuals and families.

Jill's fascination for what makes us tick stems from sheer bloody-minded curiosity and a genuine desire to see people live healthy, happy lives. Born in Manchester, the award-winning family and relationship counsellor moved to Auckland when she was nine. Being the middle child of an immigrant family she was neither the oldest nor youngest child, neither a Pom nor a Kiwi. This kicked off a lifelong fascination with how people can make sense of transitions and how uncertainty can be turned into a greater understanding of ourselves and of those who push our buttons. Her career has spanned more than 25 years, and seen her working for the Family Court; in hospitals; universities; aboriginal training programmes, inner London social work practices, and now–her own private practice in Auckland. Whether she's counselling everyday Kiwis, highly paid power couples or the children of Bengali immigrant families, Jill has an inherent ability to tease out what's really going on in people's lives, and strategise to improve the situation, whatever that may be. • Jill Goldson is a Family Dispute Resolution mediator and counsellor, and Director of The Family Matters Centre in Auckland.

Read more by Jill Goldson

Have your say

1200 characters left

By and large our readers' comments are respectful and courteous. We're sure you'll fit in well.
View commenting guidelines.

Sort by
  • Oldest

© Copyright 2016, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf04 at 26 Oct 2016 13:39:38 Processing Time: 46ms