The Single Trait That Determines Your Success In Relationships & Attractiveness To Others
People fall into one of three categories according to Adam Grant, author of the runaway best-seller Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success: Givers, Matchers, and Takers. Grant's theories provide fantastic insight into romantic relationships. Whatever category you belong to can determine how happy you are in relationships as well as your attractiveness to others.
Have you ever felt, for example, that you were not good enough in a relationship? Has a significant other ever taken advantage of you? Did you ever feel you were giving your all to someone and ended up completely worn out? Then you may be a "giver." While the giver style has its apparent drawbacks, givers are also considered most attractive—and the most likely to have long-term love.
The trait people most highly value in potential romantic partners (both men and women) is kindness. Givers also tend to be affectionate, a trait that strongly affects the longevity of a relationship (not to mention your own).
To understand what your style is and how to make the best of it, check out these three brief descriptions of each:
Givers' strongest motivation is to take care of others and to contribute to their lives in positive ways. As a giver, you may often think about gifts for your partner or about things you can do for them. You always take your partner's perspective into consideration and may even ask what you can do for them. Clearly, givers are pretty awesome partners. Who wouldn't want a partner like that?
As Grant writes in his book Give and Take, everyone likes a giver. However, in the wrong relationship, givers can think there is something wrong with them because they tend to take the blame. They may even mistakenly think they are unlovable or just not good enough because a giver tends to take responsibility for the health of a relationship rather than blaming their partner or external factors. With a partner who does not reciprocate this kindness and tendency to take responsibility for their own actions, givers can end up burned out, exhausted, and even depressed.
Matchers keep tabs in a relationship. When they give, they do so with an expectation of getting something back. When they receive, they feel like they have to give something back. Matchers view relationships as transactional. And they are the ones most likely to say things like, "I did this for you, but you didn’t do that for me," or "You paid for this, so I’ll pay for that."
Takers are just what you think they are. They usually treat people well if those people can help them reach their goals. They often appear charming and charismatic. They know how to work the crowd and seduce, but their primary motivation is self-interest. You can recognize a taker by how poorly they treat people they believe are of no use to them. You know you’re in a relationship with a taker when you feel like they’re sucking you dry financially, emotionally, and otherwise. Once the taker has everything they want, they may relegate you to the "unimportant" sphere of their life.
Which type is most successful in relationships?
Grant, whom I interviewed for my book The Happiness Track, has a fascinating theory about who, among these three styles, is happiest and most successful—the givers. And who is the least successful? Also givers.
How is that possible?
Givers who learn to successfully navigate a world with matchers and takers fare very well. Everyone loves them, trusts them, and supports them when they are in need. So why are givers also the least successful? Because some of them don’t figure out how to navigate that world, and others end up taking advantage of them. If you’re a giver, you’ve probably been there at least once, professionally or personally.
Imagine a relationship between a giver and a taker. It may end with the giver completely worn out, having perhaps spent their savings, time, and energy on someone who keeps demanding more. The taker also hardly ever provides for a partner's needs, unless they do so temporarily because it suits them at that moment.
So, what makes a successful giver?
Grant offers a list of great ideas, but one that stood out to me was the idea of becoming a "mindful giver." Mindful of what? Basically, that the world has givers, matchers, and takers, and that if you watch people’s words and actions, you will know who's who. When you navigate romantic relationships, friendships, or business partnerships, investigate which category your potential partner belongs to and don’t get blown away by first impressions. (As noted above, takers are masters of first-impression charm.)
Then what? In a nonromantic situation, you can deal with matchers and takers by trying to adopt a matcher-like attitude. Start speaking in terms like, "OK, so we agree: You will do this, and in exchange, I will do this."
What about in romantic relationships? Grant shared the following tip about long-term love:
"In the most successful relationships, both partners are Givers… In other words, when a romantic relationship works, even Matchers and Takers are focused on giving. Both partners might give in different ways, but they should be willing to support each other without expecting something in return. That said, when things get too far out of balance, I think we all become Matchers."
Picture a couple in which both partners always care for each other’s needs. When there is a fight, both are quick to offer apologies. Both live their lives with their partner’s best interests in mind.
If you can recognize yourself as a matcher or taker, congratulations on being so honest with yourself. Of course, because of givers’ affectionate, service-oriented qualities, it's probably in your best interest to find a partner who is a giver.
However, I’d like you to consider two things: Givers won't be fulfilled unless you support them as they support you. They will eventually feel worn out and perhaps even leave. In a recent study by Amie Gordon at the University of California, Berkeley, those who experienced more gratitude in their relationship also felt closer to their partner and more satisfied with the relationship.
They also tended to engage in more constructive and positive behaviors within the relationship. Ultimately, for a good relationship that benefits you, you will want your partner to be happy and will want to support them in return.
Second, as Grant outlines, givers are the ones who end up being most successful and happy as long as they don't let others take advantage or step all over them. Data shows that a lifestyle characterized by kindness and compassion leads to greater personal fulfillment, as well as health and happiness. If you want to be happy and successful, it behooves you, too, to become a giver.
Emma Seppälä, Ph.D. is the science director of Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, as well as the author behind The Happiness Track. She received her Ph.D. in psychology from Stanford University, and is also founder of Fulfillment Daily. A repeat guest on Good Morning America, Seppälä's work and research have been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, NPR, VOGUE, ELLE, Oprah Magazine, and more.