Sacrifices In Your Relationship: When Do You Draw The Line?


How committed are you?

When it comes to relationships, sacrifice is always going to come in to play BIG Time. The sacrifice could be as big as your partner asking you to move to a new city for a promotion or as simple as going to a movie you may not really want to see to make them happy. The ability to sacrifice for one another in a relationship is a pretty good indication of whether the relationship will last.

We're likely to sacrifice for the people we truly love, and readily do so, but what if that doesn't go both ways? What if you seem to always be the one sacrificing, while your partner blissfully does whatever they please?

It can be tough to ask these questions, but when gauging whether you should invest more time in a relationship it is very important to ask yourself questions regarding the sacrifices you are willing to make and the ones you are not.

Where is the line that you won't cross? If you don't have a line how will you know if your partner crosses it? How will you be able to communicate your needs if you don't know them? Really try to be honest with yourself too, because self care is essential in any healthy relationship.

Here are some questions courtesy of the Greater Good to help jumpstart your brainstorming.

1. How committed are you?

Is this the person you plan to spend forever with, or do you still harbor reservations? According to Van Lange, commitment may be one of the most important precursors to sacrifice. In order for a big sacrifice to be worth it, you should make sure that you are invested in the relationship and confident about your future together. Nothing is certain, of course, but a sacrifice becomes much more palatable when it helps bring you closer to the person with whom you want to spend the rest of your life.

2. Would your partner do the same for you?

Sacrifice is two-sided: While you are deciding whether or not to move across the country to let your spouse take his promotion, your spouse must decide whether or not to sacrifice his promotion in order to let you keep your job. So as you debate whether or not to make a sacrifice, research by Van Lange and colleagues suggests it's important to question whether your partner has shown the same degree of commitment and is now going through the same thought process. Has your partner been willing to sacrifice for you in the past, or expressed his willingness to sacrifice in the future? In the current situation, are you working together to figure out what is best, or does your partner simply expect you to change your life to accommodate his? If your partner assumes that you are the one who must choose to sacrifice, without assuming any of the same responsibility on his end, think twice.

3. Does one of you want it more?

When a situation requires sacrifice from you or your partner, the two of you may not be equally invested in the outcome. Perhaps your partner really wants to attend her family reunion, and although you don't relish missing your work event, you know your co-workers will understand, and the family reunion is a one-time thing. As you navigate the situation, make sure you are both clear about your own desires and priorities.

4. Does your partner know it's a sacrifice?

There is no need to rub your potential sacrifice in your partner's face, or use it against them, but if your partner isn't aware that you consider your act to be a sacrifice, he or she won't be able to appreciate your selflessness. In addition, by not realizing that you are incurring a cost for the sake of the relationship, your partner might not understand when you want her to return the favor the next time a sacrifice is called for. Finally, it is important to know if your partner disagrees with you and does not see your actions as a sacrifice. Has your partner expressed thanks for your willingness to sacrifice? Research I've done with Emily Impett suggests expressing gratitude shows recognition of a sacrifice. If you haven't received a "thank you," your partner may be taking you for granted.

5. Is there a better solution?

Rather than simply trying to pick through the choices at hand, you should be working with your partner to see if there is a solution that doesn't require much of a sacrifice from either of you. If your partner wants you to go on a tropical vacation and you really want to take in the architecture of ancient cities, perhaps a little research will uncover a place where you can do both. This isn't always an option, of course, but even in situations in which there is no clear compromise, there may be a way to reduce the impact of the sacrifice.

6. Can you negotiate?

Although close relationships require that you give when giving is needed, it doesn't mean you and your partner can't make an arrangement that suits both of you. For example, you can work it out so that you eat at the restaurant you want, and go to the movie your partner wants to see. This may even work for the bigger sacrifices. You could make the move to the new city, but agree that there will be money set aside in a travel budget so that you can fly home to visit your family some number of times a year.

7. What's your motivation?

In many respects, this is the most important question you need to ask yourself. Research shows that people engage in sacrifice for many different reasons, and not all of them lead to happily ever after.

Are you moving cross-country to make your partner happy and keep your relationship going—or are you simply trying to avoid conflict? Sacrifices motivated by avoidance can undermine happiness and satisfaction in a relationship. If you sacrifice to avoid conflict, you might think, Well, I might feel bad, but at least we won't fight and our relationship won't suffer. It turns out that is not the case: Recent research by Emily Impett shows that when people believe their partner sacrificed for what psychology calls "avoidance-motivated" reasons, they feel less satisfied with the relationship.

There is an alternative: When you sacrifice to make your partner happy, that can potentially increase trust and happiness. People who sacrifice for "approach-motivated" reasons—for long-term collective gain as a couple or to help fulfill your partner's dreams—tend to be happier and have more satisfying relationships.

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