We often hear the phrase, “It’s better to give than receive” but is it true?

The truth is, it just feels safer to give. Without equal ability to receive, a relationship is defined and limited by a certain amount of fear and withholding.

I discovered the significance of this while reflecting on a love relationship I ended a few months ago. Believe it or not, I gained clarity reading a romance novel. In the story, a woman was searching for something from her relationship. At one point, she declared love to the man in her life. He acknowledged it saying, “Love is what you do best and have always given so well to others.”

Then he said something that struck me – “It’s not enough.” In her confusion, she pointed out how loving and giving he is, too. He said again, “it’s not enough. Real love calls for the willingness to receive as well as to give and you are I are probably better at giving.”

As I pondered this, I recognized our ability to both give and receive is a key determiner of the strength, depth and richness within all relationships, personal and professional.

Here’s what I’ve discovered about opening to receive. To do so, we must make ourselves vulnerable. Here’s the kicker. We fear we might get hurt – again. We fear losing ourselves. Yet, unless we can open ourselves to receive as well as give, we can never be deeply happy in our relationships. In fact, when we most want and need to receive is the time most of us end up trying to give more to avoid the feelings we have. Doing this actually robs others of gifts they could and often want to provide us. We do this in business. We do this in love. The truth is we aren’t afraid to give; rather, we’re afraid to be given to.

I recognize this when I avoid vulnerability; the times I hide my emotions or don’t express what I want, like or dislike. At those times, I work to appear too strong, too nice, too independent and too dependable. I often hide first from me and then from others, and I focus on how to give more. I’m unaware of my fears, “What if the love or care I want is absent, not strong enough, deep enough or devoted enough? Wouldn’t it be better to play it safe?”

All of us have had times when it felt our heart, mind and very soul have been battered and bruised. It feels safe to give because there’s a certain sense of control and self-protection when giving. Receiving feels like risky business.

Receiving requires opening up our heart, perhaps to rejection, or disillusionment, or pain, or even heartbreak. What’s important to know at that moment is these risks aren’t the real issue. The real issue is our closing and protection, which causes our deepest pain and leads to untold losses in life, work and love.

By being more open and trusting to tell the truth about what I want, what I feel and who I am, I choose intimacy, trust and allowing. I’ve been on this path. Even though my romantic relationship with one man ended, the greatest joys for me in it were due to my transformations in this area. Having experienced these, now I see an even greater depth of love is possible. In business and personally, I more quickly express my feelings, opinions and preferences, without justifying, explaining or apologizing for who I am. I’m getting better at receiving. I accept love and care, and turn away from those things that aren’t this, and it’s making a big difference. I feel greater joy and my deeply playful, creative and generous spirit bubbles up more often as a result.

So … when you’re most likely to feel the pull to give more, check in to see if you’d benefit from opening to receive instead. Try asking for what you want, expressing yourself and being vulnerable. Ask for the sale, the raise, or help. Share yourself. Notice how that feels rather than focusing on another person’s reactions.

As a good friend told me after my breakup, “You were happiest in this relationship not because of the man, but because of how you showed up with him and are showing up with everyone.” She was right. How we show up is what determines the quality of our relationships. Choose to be open – both to give and receive!

As published nationally in Women’s Journals, August 2009