"It was love, love, love, love, love alone, Caused King Edward to leave his throne." Harry Belafonte.
"I'd slave for you, be a beggar or a knave for you." Frank Sinatra
"Yes. I loved her very strongly. I loved her a lot, really a lot. ...I was even willing to sacrifice myself for her." A man who killed his wife.
An infinite number of poems, songs, children's stories, novels, films, myths, and fairy tales-all the threads from which culture is woven-portray love in terms of personal sacrifice and self-surrender. In fact, self-sacrifice has become entwined with the notion of love and serves as a criterion for gauging whether one's love is "true." Personal sacrifice was found to be one of the most frequently generated characteristics of the experience of "being in love". Although I agree that love involves commitment, which is sometimes expressed in self-sacrifice, such sacrifice should not be the main way of valuing love.
If you love enough you are happy to make personal sacrifices. To love is to be willing to follow the loved one "to unknown lands," even at a high personal price. The greater the personal sacrifice, the higher the ranking on the hierarchy of "true love." In this view, love is somewhat similar to a kind of ancient God to whom children were sacrificed: any sacrifice is viewed as a worthy one. One such worthy sacrifice, for example, is a person's life. Thus, love is identified with the acceptance of self-sacrifice
It is no wonder that King Edward VIII of England's willingness to abandon the throne for his love, as he did for the sake of Wallis Simpson, has become the symbol of true love. A true lover is supposed to do anything for his beloved. Indeed, Lynn, a divorcee, said "when in love I know that I will do anything for this person-love is unconditional." In a relationship based upon idealized love one is encouraged to demonstrate unselfish sacrifice, selfless concern for the happiness of the other, and lack of concern for one's own personal needs.
Although I agree that love involves commitment, which is sometimes expressed in self-sacrifice, such sacrifice should not be the main way of valuing love. Central to love is each partner's desire to facilitate the other partner's ability to fulfill his or her wishes and values, but this does not mean either should sacrifice their own wishes. There are many types of sacrifices, and some of them may be necessary. But they should remain a means to be used in very specific and infrequent circumstances; they should not be seen as a norm or an expectation. In fact, when a lover does something for her beloved, she should do it because she genuinely wishes to do so, not because she considers it as a sacrifice.
When love becomes one sided, sacrifice becomes a license for emotional extortion ("after all I've done for you"), for whatever has been sacrificed on the altar of love becomes a debt that can never be repaid. Whatever has been done for the sake of love is now the basis for feeling deceived and vengeful. Studies have shown that in the face of rejection, the most extreme and vengeful behaviors are triggered by feelings of deception and humiliation.
A common motif in many of the testimonies of men who killed their wives is the claim that love is a willingness to sacrifice oneself for the beloved. Self-sacrifice takes on a number of meanings, from giving everything and dedicating oneself solely to the relationship, through risking one's life, to actual death. Although giving everything and taking everything are as distant from one another as possible, what is common to them is their position at the extreme end of the scale. The two possibilities join the extremes. The danger lies in extremist attitudes.
The concept of ideal love is often associated with the sacrifice of personal independence and the idea of shared identity: The self becomes "we" and the other is seen as a part of one's self-identity. While it is true that unselfishness is of great importance in our personal relationships, this does not mean that we should be selfless or that we should allow our identity to dissolve into that of our beloved. The affinity between lovers does not mean that they merge into each other or that their identities become identical, but rather that they enjoy their togetherness while maintaining their separate personal identities.
Lovers do not have to lose their identity in order to flourish together. Love should foster personal development, rather than hinder it. We should not sacrifice ourselves at the altar of love, but rather let love increase our self-fulfillment and well-being.
The above considerations can be encapsulated in the following perspective that a married person might express: "Darling, I know that I should not be selfish, and I am not. But you should not view our love as an altar upon which to extol my personal scarifies. I love you darling, but I do not need to prove my love by sacrificing everything else that I value. I am ready to do a lot for you, but please do not ask me to become something that I am not.
Adapted from In the Name of Love