I am a giver. 30% tips to waiters and waitresses, counter people, Uber drivers; I also give to panhandlers and street musicians on the corner. The other night, I was waiting in line to buy movie tickets and a group of college students were $10 short. I would’ve given them the money if my wife hadn’t stopped me.

It feels natural for me to give at every opportunity, but it’s not always the right thing to do. For example, when I give my adult children too much, they sometimes feel like I’m treating them like children. When I offer friends constant favors, I can sometimes give them the impression that I don’t think they can do it on their own. “Thanks… but I can actually handle this on my own,” is what I might hear.

I often have to do what’s counterintuitive to me in order to do what’s best for my relationships. And this can be true for anyonemaybe even you. Stop for a minute and think about a particular problem or conflict you’re having in a relationship. Now, try to:

  1. Notice the conflict or problem you’re having. For example, does the other person keep walking away when you want to talk; do they become angry or agitated or easily cry when you think you’re being reasonable; do they refuse to listen to you and this leaves you thinking that you don’t matter? Instead of blaming or being critical of them for doing whatever they are doing, try to just observe their behavior without judgment.

  2. Look at yourself. Look at yourself in a non-critical, non-judgmental way. You shouldn’t blame yourself for how you’re acting in the conflict, but if you keep doing the same thing over and over and getting into the same problem with the same person, then what you’re doing is not working. What you’re doing may feel like a natural, intuitive reaction to someone else’s behavior, but, again, it’s not going to get your relationship anywhere.

  3. Ask: “What can I do differently?” If I notice you always withdraw when we argue, I can change my behavior. Maybe I can lower my voice, approach sensitive issues at a different time, try to listen more than talk, or try different ways to engage you. I can also ask you what you’d like me to do differently.

Some of this probably won’t feel comfortable because it will feel counter-intuitive, maybe even fake. Sometimes, new behaviors feel like this. But keep in mind that we are changing not as a way of changing the other person’s behavior, but as a way of reducing or eliminating conflict. Sometimes, this involves teaching ourselves how to feel comfortable doing the opposite of what comes “naturally.”  

I don’t monitor my giving because I want to change my children or my friends, I change my behavior because I want relationships with less conflict. And that’s important to me.