You Cannot Give What You Don’t Have

All About Giving

Much of caregiving is about giving. Giving of your time, your energy, your love, your support, and your strength. The list can go on and on. In partnerships, friendships, and in parenting we are also giving. However, as long as everyone is functioning at basically the same level, there is give and take. In caregiving, it can feel like this natural balance gets off kilter. 

In my own situation, I felt like we had a lot of give and take before cancer. It wasn’t always completely balanced, but it certainly felt like he supported me, took care of things around the house and in our lives and I did the same for him. 

When he was diagnosed with cancer, the equation shifted quite a bit. Not all at once and not right away, but during certain periods he was simply unable to give. And the need for me to support him and our family increased at the same time.

Give From Abundance

When your partner is sick it’s natural to give more. It’s OK that the pendulum shifts and they are not able to give back as much. But this is also why it’s extra important that you realize you cannot give what you don’t have. 

You will want to give them love, your energy and time, and your strength and support. But what happens when you don’t have those things yourself? Giving to someone is only sustainable when you are giving from abundance. When you give from lack it will end up feeling like resentment, you will become depleted and your relationship becomes a lie. This leads to burnout or losing yourself and it’s a very easy trap for caregivers to fall into. 

Let’s look at each of these areas and how it is different when you are giving from abundance compared to lack.

Giving Your Love

Hopefully, you are starting with an abundance of love. If you have had a good relationship to this point, there will have been some give and take in your relationship already. If your relationship was suffering before your partner got cancer, then this could be one area that is already a bit depleted. 

Giving your love when you have an abundance of it will feel good to you as the giver. I know in my  own situation this was usually all my husband wanted from me was my love. I was always trying to do all these things for him and often he just wanted me to love him. I could do that and usually it felt great. 

Most of the time, I could give of my love because I had it to give. I was treating myself with love.  I was forgiving and kind to myself. I took care of my health and own needs. I had friends and family I leaned on for support. I coached myself and got coached regularly. I wasn’t perfect in loving myself, but I was refilling my own cup with the love I needed to feel.

On the other hand, when you are giving from lack, you will know because you will start to feel resentment. You will want to feel appreciated and noticed for your giving. Just notice that. It’s nothing to feel bad about, but it is a sign that you are not full in this area. I teach that we don’t “get” love from others, we give it to ourselves by how we treat ourselves and how we talk to and think about ourselves. If we surround ourselves with people who also love and support us, we will feel loved. If you are not treating yourself with love first, you will not have love to give. 

Giving Your Energy and Time

When one partner has cancer, right away there will be more things that have to fit into your life. Doctor appointments, phone calls with insurance, research, decisions about treatment, medications, and changes in diet and habits you have to make or help them make. All of this takes time and energy. 

Many caregivers take on these additional responsibilities willingly. They want their partner to get better and they want to support them. However over time, their energy stores run dry. If they are not refilling them through self care and emotional support for themselves, they will end up depleted. Often, this can result in health problems for the caregiver. 

Where are you? Are you feeling depleted? Then this is a sign you are trying to give your time and energy from lack. Remember, you cannot give what you don’t have. Take heed of this message as this is where many caregivers head toward burnout. I know you may feel like you don’t have a choice, but that is not true. You always have a choice, but you need to recognize it first (read Taking Responsibility For Our Decisions).

Giving Your Strength and Support

When my husband was first diagnosed with a cancerous tumor in his arm, I wanted to make sure he never felt alone. That was important to me. I wanted to be his partner in fighting cancer. 

For that, I needed to be strong so I could lend him my strength and support when he needed it. 

After many years of his health struggle, my own strength began to wane. I began to get tired of the fight and constantness of cancer in our lives. 

Being strong for them when you feel strong yourself will feel good to you. When it starts to feel like a lie or that you are “faking” it, then you need to pay attention. That means you are trying to give what you no longer have.  

You have to replenish your strength before you can give it. Otherwise, you are just lying to them and lying to yourself. You don’t have to “pretend” to be strong. You need to take care of yourself so you are strong. That may be spiritual practice, or getting a coach, or having a great friend to support, but you need to replenish your strength. 

You Owe It To Yourself

Most of your partners would not want you to deplete yourself in order to support them. They would not want you to forgo your own health and wellbeing and give everything of yourself. I know my husband would have never wanted that from me. However, I sometimes did it to myself by what I thought I should do and how I thought I should support him. Through coaching I learned how to give myself love, how to replenish my energy, and how to work through my emotions when I didn’t feel strong. Then, I was able to love and give and support him honestly and from abundance. 


I know this may feel impossible to you right now. I promise you it’s not impossible. It’s very much possible, especially when you get the support of a coach. This time may be exactly what you need to spur you to action and take charge of your mental and emotional health. No one can do that for you. Let’s talk. Click the button below to schedule a free consultation and let’s see how you can start giving from abundance, not lack.

One thought on “You Cannot Give What You Don’t Have

  1. Again and again Marika , such poignant insights into caring for other and how to balance of caring for self, really brillant. Thank you.

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