Sometimes in relationships we feel the need to be everything for another person. To go above and beyond to take care of another person’s needs. We all want to be loved and show those we love that we care for them, but having healthy boundaries means having a good balance between giving and taking. It is especially easy in new relationships, to go above and beyond to show your partner that you are someone he/she would like to be with.
In every healthy relationship there is a degree of give and take that occurs between people. There is a psychological phenomenon related to this that is referred to as the Benjamin Franklin Effect (named so because Benjamin Franklin was the first to describe it in writing). In his autobiography Franklin described the effect, saying “He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another, than he whom you yourself have obliged.” In short, the Benjamin Franklin Effect means that as we put more work and effort into a relationship, we tend to become more invested in that relationship. This has important implications in couples relationships. When we find ourselves in that place of trying to prove our worth to someone, sometimes we are inadvertently decreasing the number of opportunities for that person to become invested in the relationship. This can have the effect of stunting a relationship that could otherwise blossom into a healthy, happy one.
One of the most common issues I have worked on with people I see in therapy is the problem of giving too much and prioritizing others’ needs above one’s own. This is something that is especially difficult for people who struggle with codependency. Sometimes it is important to take a step back and allow the other person to put some work into the relationship. Let him/her do something nice for you, accept help, and share in life difficulties. This will allow him/her to become more invested in the relationship and will ultimately make for a balanced long-term relationship.
The video below talks about the Benjamin Franklin Effect and provides an example.