Are You Sacrificing For the Right Reasons?

Sacrificing for the wrong reasons may be worse than no sacrifice at all.

Posted Jun 30, 2012

Are you making the move to make your partner happy and keep your relationship going, or to avoid having conflict with your partner? Sacrifices made for approach-motivated reasons, such as making your partner happy, are beneficial. People who sacrifice for these reasons are happier and have more satisfying relationships. In contrast, sacrifices made for avoidance-motivated reasons, such as avoiding conflict, can be detrimental. People who sacrifice for these reasons are less happy and have less satisfying relationships. You might think, well I might feel bad, but at least my partner will reap the benefits of my sacrifice. It turns out that is not the case – when people believe their partners sacrificed for avoidance –motivated reasons, they feel less satisfied with the relationship.

Although sacrificing to make a partner happy can be a good thing, it may be trouble if you find yourself constantly sacrificing out of a desire to be the “good” partner and make your partner happy at the cost of your own happiness. People who are high in unmitigated communion prioritize other needs above their own. While prioritizing someone else’s needs is the hallmark of a close relationship, it can be costly for self-esteem and mental health if it means neglecting your own needs.

Along similar lines, you should ask yourself whether your sacrifice is motivated by a desire to help your partner or if you are doing it so that you can hold the sacrifice over your partner’s head. Genuinely helping is healthy, but using sacrifice as a bargaining chip in your relationship may lead to resentment from your partner.

Sacrificing in order to ensure that your partner owes you may likewise be problematic. Although there is nothing wrong with negotiating with your partner when deciding whether or not to sacrifice, choosing to make a sacrifice and then silently expecting your partner to take the fall the next time may mean disappointment for both of you. In close relationships, people typically hold communal expectations – believing their partner will help them when they need it and not expecting to be paid back in kind. In fact, people can actually become upset when a close partner tries to pay them back as if they were a stranger. So finding out that your partner sacrificed in order to ensure you would make a sacrifice the next time may be a disheartening realization indeed.

Do you think it is okay to have expectations for your partner after you make a big sacrifice? Would you prefer your partner to sacrifice for avoidance-motivated reasons or not at all?


Further Reading:

Impett EA, Gable SL, & Peplau LA (2005). Giving up and giving in: the costs and benefits of daily sacrifice in intimate relationships. Journal of personality and social psychology, 89 (3), 327-44 PMID: 16248717

Clark, M. S, & Mills, J. (1986). Keeping track of needs in communal and exchange relationships Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 51 (2), 333-338 DOI: 10.1037/0022-3514.51.2.333