Reciprocity in Relationships Is Vital, But Are You Doing It? An Expert Weighs In

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If you're looking for a simple sentence to describe the multisyllabic word "reciprocity," then Kelly Campbell, a psychology professor at California State University, San Bernardino, has it: "Reciprocity refers to the exchanging of resources between people," she says. That's easy enough to comprehend when put into those matter-of-fact terms.

Campbell also offers up some basic examples of this concept, like lending money or providing a service, which can be repaid in a length of time that corresponds to the relationship's intimacy level. For instance, she says you're likely to repay an acquaintance much faster than you are, say, your sibling. "Intimate relationships tend to have a longer period of time to return benefits, whereas strangers are expected to exchange benefits immediately," she continues.

Like anything that's more closely studied, reciprocity gets more interesting—and more challenging—when you consider its nuances. A more intimate relationship tends to be more understanding, but that's not something you should take for granted.

"Within relationships, it is important that reciprocity is balanced," Campbell adds. "If one person is doing all of the giving, and the other is doing all of the receiving, then the relationship is lopsided and at risk for dissatisfaction, infidelity, or dissolution." In order to build a healthy relationship, it's always good to know where you stand in the realm of reciprocity, and where you need to improve.

We asked Campbell to expand on her advice, in the hope that reciprocity is pushed to the forefront of your mind as you consider each important person in your life.