It's commonly believed that the requirements of a loving relationship is two people, who mutually understand and proclaim love for each other. However, a bond can never be understood in such simple terms, as context will shape how the relationship is viewed. Every relationship will have at least two definitions, one from partner A, one from partner B, and possibly several others from relatives or friends. Resources and materials, such as experience, beliefs, cultural influences, emotionality, personality and social skills will shape these portraits.

Reciprocal relationships are considered working relationships, but sometimes the modus operandi doesn't support the goal. An example would be equality in gender roles in some societal or cultural areas. While some action groups will say they are looking for equality, for argument's sake, there can develop an over-compensation of the powerlessness felt by the individuals, that displays as aggression or over-exertion towards the task. Alternatively, the defenders of their territory might become overly aggressive instead, asserting their rights to obtain their traditions.

The point is, relationships, whatever the context, will always be largely affected by who the people are and their internal processes, and how they choose to live in their relationship. We decide what we allow in our interactions with others. Another way of putting is would be, have standards, and make people live by them, because you are the one that sets that bar in life. Only you can give people permission to treat you a certain way, or define you in a particular way.

Successful relationships will never work with a basic definition of two people who mutually understand and proclaim love for each other; strong friendships will never be as easy as two people who like to hang out together. Reciprocation -- true reciprocation takes work.

Love is a positive, symbiotic, reciprocal flow between two or more entities.
Inga Muscio, American Activist


A successful relationship, friendship, or family connection starts with you. Yes, you. The first step is choosing you and your cause, as well as deciding to find the ideals of true reciprocation. Single or attached, you can do this whenever you want.

On a piece of paper, draw a huge, wide road down the middle of your page, with the broken lines down the middle. At the top left of the page write TO TOWN, then on the bottom right write THE DITCH.

Let's start on the right-hand side of the road. In this column, write down things that you have demanded in past to be reciprocal. These could be considered your basic expectations. However, formulate them with the idea that both you and the other person would have to follow these rules. Remember we're talking about reciprocation and not a list of hoops or unrealistic goals for someone to jump over.  Start each statement with "I believe" rather than "I demand" or "I expect", as we're focusing on what you believe, which is where intention begins.

Examples might be:
I believe friends always keep each other's secrets.
I believe partners always call if they're going to be late.
I believe love is faithful and monogamous unless otherwise agreed.

This is your list of core beliefs of relationships. Keep this as your reference. Let it guide you. After your list, draw an arrow pointing downwards towards THE DITCH. Our arrow is to remind us that if the core expectations are crossed by someone in your life, you have a choice to send them to the ditch. You are the person who allows people to get away with everything. Do you want to let them get away with it?

Now the left side of the road. On this side, write down traits you'd like to see in future relationships, the things that would make you think the other person is totally awesome.  Once again, use "I believe" and write down things that you'd reciprocate.

Examples might be:
I believe going out to dinner once a week would be great quality time.
I believe having a partner helping with chores would be beneficial to my work schedule.
I believe friends should message to check in with each other at least once a week.
I believe sisters should choose each other over anything else.

These are your cherries on top. While you might not have seen them in previous relationships, these are the traits that would make you think the person has made an extra effort to show they care. Above this list, draw a big arrow that points at TO TOWN. This is to symbolise that someone who has met these is someone who is more than a successor, but an achiever in your goals.

"I should not be judged by a standard that's not applied to everyone else."
Fareed Zakaria, American Journalist.

The standards we hold are defined by us, but also the deliberation of how they are upheld. Let's talk about true reciprocation. True give and take can be measured because it's actions, not just lip service. Often we say a relationship is reciprocal, but daily actions are not so. An example.

Callie breaks up with her boyfriend and her friend, Marta, comforts her. Later, Callie goes away to travel New Zealand, and finds out Marta is now hanging out with her ex-boyfriend.  Marta only met him through Callie, and their connection was always their friendships with Callie. When Callie broke up with him, she was lead to believe Marta stopped contact with him also.

In basic terms, we can still say Callie and Marta have a reciprocal friendship -- they are two people with mutual understanding who like each other -- but are they in a true reciprocal relationship? The key is the question.

"The power to question is the basis of all human progress."
Indira Gandhi, Indian stateman


The key to defining true reciprocation is knowing the right question to ask. That question is, "What if it was the other way?"

In our example, let's say Callie finds out about Marta's recent social activities and calls her. The ladies have an argument, Callie demanding to know why she wasn't told. Marta asserts she can hang out with who she wants, and she doesn't feel it should bother Callie as she is just friends with him -- she has a boyfriend of her own.

"What if it was the other way?"
By asking this question, Callie can look at the issue further defined in terms of "her story", "my story." What if it was the other way around and it was Callie and Marta's ex-boyfriend who had become friends?

Callie thinks back to a time when a similar situation happened. A few years before, Marta was dating a guy called David. They often went out as a group, and often Callie would talk to him when Marta went to get drinks. When they broke up, Marta was very hurt and was comforted by her friend. Callie still had a class with him at school, but Marta had gotten very angry when the teacher asked Callie and David to work on an assignment together. It was only for one lesson, but Callie took reference from this and never spoke to him again.

The two sides from Marta's perspective:
Callie is not allowed to talk to Marta's ex.
Marta is allowed to talk to Callie's ex.

The two sides from Callie's perspective:
Callie is not allowed to talk to Marta's ex.
Marta is not allowed to talk to Callie's ex.

Is the rule the same for both? No.

True reciprocation is about similar care or actions from both parties and in this case, while they would have said they are in a reciprocal relationship, this action proves otherwise. One person asserts more power than the other, or has more rights than the other.

If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country.
E. M. Forster, English novelist.


Callie now has a choice to make, of which will decide her fate.

1) Choose to forgive Marta, and allow her to talk to her ex, despite the relationship being known as not truly reciprocal. She might be okay with this, and choose a limited standard for herself, and that's how it'll be. The side effects might be anxiety, lack of trust, lack of security, and possibly a lack of honesty in future. Are these traits beneficial to a friendship? Helpful to Callie? She's choosing to keep the relationship on the road.

2) Choose her own interests and decide that the friendship is not reciprocal enough. She gave Marta considerations that she is not getting back. Callie could decide this action deems the relationship ready for the ditch. Side effects might be loneliness while seeking out new friends, however, there won't be contention or disappointment in the forefront all the time. Callie is free to move forward elsewhere.

"It is not fair to ask of others what you are not willing to do yourself."
Eleanor Roosevelt, American First Lady

There is power in choosing standards that we deserve, and making ourselves and others stick to them. Life is never predictable, but we can always create roadmaps to guide us. What do we expect from ourselves and others? What are we willing to accept? When is second best okay?

Reciprocation -- true reciprocation -- can be understood by asking, what if it was the other way? Think in context, and think of times in the past where similar situations came up, involving the person you have the relationship with. We often find life goes in patterns, where situations will repeat in some form or other.

Let this question assist you in deciphering what your options are, such as, "I want Emma to stop smoking around me. What if I asked her to go outside to smoke? What if it was the other way and she asked that of me?"