The importance of mutuality

“Ha, ha, ha… You will look back at this moment and see the humour in it all.” I had just shared something vulnerable and my friend was laughing. It is possible that he was right. Maybe, sometime in the future, I will look at this event with an amused smile. But that was not where I was at the moment. Now when I write about the event, I still can’t detect the humour in it. Although this incident doesn’t arouse much vulnerability in me right now, this is one of the reasons that I continue choosing not to meet my friend anymore.

This event reminds me of how important mutuality is to me. I’m not attached to my friends agreeing with me or looking at the world the same way as I do. What I value, however, is that we treat each other with mutuality. That we both contribute to an exchange in the relationship. We give and we take. And it doesn’t matter who gives and who takes. If it is only one person in the relationship who contributes and the other who receives over a longer period of time – whether it is material resources, time, energy or otherwise – imbalance will occur. I think there needs to be some kind of balance over time in a mutual relationship.

When mutuality is missing

When I have judgments, either of inferiority or superiority to others, I feel uncomfortable. When I look at relationships in my life, I see a pattern of withdrawing when I have these judgments. I think many of these relationships could have been “saved” if I had been aware of the need for mutuality. The imbalance in one area could be offset by the imbalance in another. We can contribute and receive in different areas. For example, if I have a friend who is dependent on a lot of emotional support, he or she may not have the ability to listen to me. However, perhaps the same person is very creative and contributes to my own desire to explore different areas of my life. 

I don’t think that all relationships need to be based on mutuality. If I can continuously refuel my need for mutuality in different settings, I can also appreciate contact in relationships that are not built on mutuality. An example of this is the relationship I have with certain family members. Other examples might be the relationship I have with co-workers or some old friends. These relationships can be valuable to me in other ways.

In search of equality

In addition to my own experience of interactions between people around me, research shows that most people choose to socialise with others that are on the same level. For example, there are surveys that show that the average income of the five closest friends to any given person is close to the income of this person. The intuitive knowledge of this is also found in old expressions in our language. In Swedish, we have the expressions “lika barn leka bäst” (similar kids play best) och “kaka söker maka” (cake is looking for a partner). The English equivalent seems to be “birds of a feather stick together”. We simply seem to thrive with people we identify with and to whom we do not compare ourselves all the time.

The similarities of needs

The more I write about needs, the less I perceive them as distinct and separate from each other. When it comes to mutuality, I see connection to respect, balance and acceptance. Of these needs, I link mutuality more to connecting with peers. We need to be in a context where we can socialise on equal terms and where the need to contribute also can be met. Without hidden intentions about “what’s in it for me?”

What is your experience of mutuality? How is it to be in circumstances when the need is met and how is it when it’s not met? Please share your thoughts below. If you are a Premium subscriber of “The Needs’ Year”, you can comment on the online platform here: 


Joachim Berggren (CNVC Certified Trainer)

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On Tuesday (15 February 2022 at 17:00 CET), you can participate in a Zoom Talk with me and Pernille Plantener. We will talk about the need for mutuality.

Sign up for the Needs’ Year and you will receive a link to Zoom.

If you read this afterwards, you can watch the recording when you become a premium subscriber. Check the details HERE.

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