I recently heard an interview with Maryrose Forsyth, author of The Real Estate of Relationships: Unveiling Practical Dating Solutions for the 21st Century on blog talk radio. For those who are looking for love, you may want to check out the interview for this helpful primer on sensible dating.

However, a side benefit (and an unintentional one on the author’s part) is this book can also be a helpful guide in other relationships as well. Maryrose explains that many relationships end because the couples weren’t looking for the same thing. If you both aren’t on the same page, then the relationship is doomed to fail. The same is true of friendships, work relationships etc. It boils down to our expectations of the person we are involved with.

For instance, my brother, Terry, is an extremely loyal friend. He has friends that have been a part of his life since he was five years old. Many of his childhood friendships stemmed from playing sports. However, as time went on, although Terry is still healthy and active, many of his friends became sick, old and feeble. In one case, his best friend for many years, Les, died. Yet, before Les passed away, Terry visited him in the hospital every day, and he still visits Les’ mom on a regular basis.

In my brother’s case, the dynamics of the friendship may have changed but not his loyalty. It is also interesting to note that Terry has no real expectations that his friends reciprocate with the same dedication that he demonstrates.

As a boy, and later as a man, I remember my mother chastising Terry that his friends did not reciprocate in the same fashion that he did. This tit for tat calculating system was very important to my mother. My mother had a lot of friends, but it was as though she kept a running total of favors exchanged. She was a very loyal friend, but if she didn’t receive what she felt was an even exchange, her friendship was withdrawn. Maybe not completely, but at least to a level that was suitable to my mother’s tastes.

This was not so important to Terry. He was not motivated by my mother’s system. He did what he wanted to do, regardless of any exchange of favors. I’m a beneficiary of my brother’s good nature and sense of loyalty. He helps me with my taxes every year, as he does with my siblings. Yet, there is nothing I am able to do in return for him (and yes, I do try).

However, most people are not as accepting as my brother. Most of us want a friend who gives as much as they receive in the friendship. This is very much like Maryrose’s book. Just as you want to date someone in the same commitment category as you are, the same holds true for other relationships, including friendships.

In the case of family dynamics this isn’t always possible. People have their own level of commitment and we can’t force them to behave the way we would act. One way is not necessarily better than another, it is just what that person has adopted to be the level that works the best for them.

That is not to say that if you are a loyal person that you must give 100% in your relationships and expect nothing in return. It is more a matter of understanding what category, or type of friendship, the other person is offering. From there, you can make a choice about whether or not this level of commitment is something you are comfortable with.

Throughout our lives we are going to have a variety of friends. Some friendships will evolve in sync with our lives, others will not. Sometimes time is the enemy. The relationship is still there, but priorities are given to other matters.

The important thing is to understand what you want, what you are comfortable giving and what (if anything) you expect in return. For some, like my brother, if you are his friend, he will be there for you. He doesn’t need for you to be in his same “friendship category”. For some, like my mother, the give and take must be pretty close to a 50/50 exchange and the category needs to be a tight fit.

The bottom line is that before you invest a lot of time, emotion and care in any relationship, understand your needs, the needs of others, and make sure that the two are in agreement. We do not have to have committed friendships with everyone. Sometimes it is in our best interest not to.

But remember, the choice is still yours. And remember, although people may not live up to our expectations, they are as good as they can be for that particular time in their life.

by Sally Marks

What is your relationship expectation? How do you provide your own sense of balance or your own needs?

Sally Marks is the president of Marks Public Relations and the co-author of the self-improvement book, Erase Negativity and Embrace the Magic Within. For more information visit http://www.erasenegativity.com/.

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  • stephen miracle Posted February 16, 2011 8:36 am

    Great article Leigh!

    I think you made a good point that good friendships are not completely about the idea of general reciprication. You can't just do for a friend just because your expecting something in return. This is not how friendship works nor we work as breathing people.

    You don't want to be walked over, but these are your friends at the same time. As a friend, you should already know that they are trustworthy and a good person. Sometimes people just don't have the time or aren't in the right spot to reciprocate and that is fine because there are times when we are in those spots too.

  • Leigh Harris Posted February 16, 2011 9:19 am

    Thanks Stephen!

    Sally makes some great points. I believe we can get caught up in repeated thoughts such as, "why didn't they call?" or "did I do something wrong?" As you remind us, we can't always expect an equal return.

    Honesty, and accepting that each is capable of different levels of connection, create stronger relationships (not closer, but more confident).

    Thanks for your input. Great food for thought.

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