Successful stories are driven by authentic and interesting characters, so it’s important to craft them carefully. But characters don’t usually exist in a vacuum; throughout the course of your story, they’ll live, work, play, and fight with other cast members. Some of those relationships are positive and supportive, pushing the protagonist to positive growth and helping them achieve their goals. Other relationships do exactly the opposite—derailing your character’s confidence and self-worth—or they cause friction and conflict that leads to fallout and disruption. Many relationships hover somewhere in the middle. A balanced story will require a mix of these dynamics.
The purpose of this thesaurus is to encourage you to explore the kinds of relationships that might be good for your story and figure out what each might look like. Think about what a character needs (good and bad), and build a network of connections for him or her that will challenge them, showcase their innermost qualities, and bind readers to their relationship trials and triumphs.
Giver and Taker
Description: In this codependent relationship, each party gets something that they need, but in an unhealthy manner. The giver goes to great lengths to please and help the taker, often sacrificing their own needs, desires, health, and mental well-being to serve the other person. This can result in the giver being abused, neglected, taken advantage of, or otherwise mistreated by the taker. In the end, they both benefit, albeit dysfunctionally: the taker gets someone to care for them while the giver gets what they need (gaining the taker’s approval, finding purpose in serving them, etc.).
This dynamic can be found in any pairing—between spouses, friends, a parent and child, coach and athlete, boss and employee, etc.
Below are a wide range of dynamics that may accompany this relationship. Use the ideas that suit your story and work best for your characters to bring about and/or resolve the necessary conflict.
The giver struggling to say no to the taker, no matter how selfish the request
The giver making excuses for the other party, even taking the on the blame for the taker’s actions
The giver finding their identity as a caregiver or in relationship to the other person (instead of having their own individual identity)
The giver sacrificing their own needs in favor of the taker’s
The giver being unaware of their own needs or being unable/unwilling to communicate them
The giver experiencing frequent stress or anxiety due to never knowing where they stand with the taker
The giver playing the peacemaker—doing whatever it takes to mend the relationship after an argument
The giver taking personal responsibility for the taker’s happiness
The giver believing that no one can care for the taker like they can
The taker guilting, bullying, or manipulating the giver into doing something for them
The taker mistreating the giver, then attempting to make up for it with through gifts or gestures
The taker expressing dissatisfaction with how a giver is doing things
The taker controlling every aspect of the giver’s life
The taker becoming jealous if the giver gives their time or attention to anyone else (including their child, parent, sibling, etc.)
The taker showing little or no interest in the giver’s true needs or desires
The taker refusing to negotiate or compromise with the giver (my way or the highway thinking)
Conflicting Desires that Can Impair the Relationship
The giver wanting to be treated as an equal while the taker wants to be in charge
One party wanting out of the relationship
The taker demanding something the giver is uncomfortable doing
The giver wanting to care for someone else (a child, for instance) while the taker wants all of the giver’s attention
The giver wanting to believe or embrace something the taker doesn’t agree with
The giver needing a mental break from caregiving, but the taker refusing to comply
The giver wanting a level of autonomy that the taker is unwilling to allow
Clashing Personality Trait Combinations:
Controlling and Rebellious, Perfectionist and Flaky, Extravagant and Thrifty, Cruel and Oversensitive, Manipulative and Weak-Willed, Pushy and Independent, Needy and Apathetic
Negative Outcomes of Friction
The taker’s self-esteem plummeting
Fear of losing the relationship keeping the two together in an unhealthy relationship
Children seeing the dysfunction and continuing it in their own relationships
The giver feeling isolated, having no one to confide in
Either party turning to substance abuse as a coping mechanism (or increased use, if it’s already part of the equation)
Fictional Scenarios That Could Turn These Characters into Allies
A “rock bottom” scenario in the relationship that requires changes be made if they are to stay together
Working together to help a mutual friend, the taker’s boss, or someone who needs help
A medical emergency that requires the taker to adopt the caregiving role and the giver to accept the taker’s help to return to health
A spiritual awakening that causes a change in one or both parties, causing them to want to heal the relationship
Ways This Relationship May Lead to Positive Change
Either party seeing an example of a healthy relationship and wanting it personally
Regaining a healthy relationship through self-revelation and therapy
Either party leaving so they can focus on their own health and well-being
Children seeing the dysfunction and vowing to do things differently in their own relationships
Themes and Symbols That Can Be Explored through This Relationship
Beginnings, Deception, Depression, Enslavement, Family, Freedom, Friendship, Health, Hope, Instability, Isolation, Journeys, Love, Obstacles, Perseverance, Sacrifice, Suffering, Transformation
Other Relationship Thesaurus entries can be found here.
Need More Descriptive Help?
While this thesaurus is still being developed, the rest of our descriptive collection (15 unique thesauri and growing) is accessible through the One Stop for Writers THESAURUS database.
If you like, swing by and check out the video walkthrough, and then give our Free Trial a spin.
Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and its sequels. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling.