Many women are givers by nature. For many of us, supporting others and being an empathetic, nurturing caregiver feels like an integral part of who we are. Helping people we care about provides a sense of purpose and deep fulfillment, and these are amazing, feel-good attributes. Unfortunately, it also seems to be a quick road to emotional burnout.
After coaching lots of women, we’ve noticed that natural caregivers often fall into a very common pattern. We’re willing to bet this will feel at least a little familiar to most of you: we call it…
The Giving-Exhaustion-Resentment Cycle.
It shows up in all sorts of relationships, but it’s especially dangerous in romantic ones. Here’s the pattern:
- Abundant Giving. Give, give, give. Support, support, support. Saying “yes” to every request. Being in this space feels amazing and purposeful and abundant. Natural caregivers love when they can support and heal and lift up their partner, so this is the fun part.
- Exhaustion. After an extended period of abundant giving, it starts to feel like a slow energy drain in your body. The desire to be supportive is still there, but your energy level is flagging.
- Resentment. This usually shows up when you get to the point of pure exhaustion. Maybe it’s resentment toward your husband or boyfriend. That can manifest in thoughts like, “He never appreciates me. I have to do everything. Where’s my support?” Or it can be resentment toward yourself: “I always do this. I pushed myself too hard again. What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I just let things go? I’m just too sensitive.”
Once you vent your frustration or spend some time recuperating, the cycle starts all over again. So how can you stop bouncing from one extreme to the other?
You’ve likely heard the advice to “Say No” more often. And, sure, it’s true that it’s an effective strategy for creating balance. However, even if you know in theory that saying “No” is important for balance, it doesn’t always feel good. As a compassionate, giving person, this can feel really tough, especially when you’re in that “Abundant Giving” mindset. And for women with a lot of innate empathy, it can also feel selfish to tell someone you love “No” just so you can have some downtime to yourself or focus on your own goals and health.
But what if you shifted your perspective on what it means to be a giving person on an even deeper level? What if, instead of always seeking out ways to lift up others, you started focusing on ways to create a win-win in your relationships?
When you consistently look for the win-win solution, it’s no longer about being selfish or about boosting up others at your own expense. As you start to view your relationships from this perspective, you adopt the mentality that, “If we can’t both win, then let’s change the game.”
Creating a win-win might look like…
- Going to your boyfriend’s stuffy office party, but being clear that you’re leaving at a certain time to get a drink with an old college friend who’s in town for the weekend.
- Kindly giving your partner space to work through anger or stress or disappointment in his own way instead of diving into the emotional trenches with him and soaking up his negative energy. (Empathetic people are generally very sensitive and absorb others’ energy. And two people engulfed in negative energy isn’t a win-win … it’s a lose-lose.)
- Having an open discussion about who does what around the house/apartment. If you absolutely hate doing dishes but don’t mind laundry, speak up! See if he’s up for a trade. Find a system that you both feel good about.
How can you create a win-win in your relationship today?
Kristen & Rachel