In a cooperative exchange, the size of a partner's contribution is likely to depend both on the partner's ability to supply help and on the partner's need for help in return. Referring to such needs and abilities as aspects of partner quality, it follows that variation in the amount of help offered in a relationship could transmit information about partner quality. A plausible behaviour might then be to vary the investment in a partner according to available information about partner quality and to invest little in a partner who offers little in return. Thus, regulation of a relationship through communication of partner quality would tend to follow the principle of reciprocity. In an analysis of an iterated game where players have private information about their needs and abilities, I verify this possibility by describing an evolutionarily stable state space strategy, referred to as 'state-dependent reciprocity', entailing communication of partner quality. Although the evolution of cooperation has been studied in great detail, there has been no previous analysis of communication of needs and abilities in a relationship. It may well be that such communication is of major importance for the evolution of cooperative behaviour in nature.