Making sacrifices in romantic relationships is a delicate balancing act. While they are an inherent part of co-existing with and caring for someone you love, research has shown that sacrifices can come at a cost for both the giver and the receiver of the gesture.
For example, it can sometimes lead to a build-up of disappointment or resentment towards your partner. In turn, your partner may experience anger, especially if they feel that your sacrifice was not called for.
Here are three factors that determine how your partner actually feels about the sacrifices you choose to make in your relationship.
1. What Kind of a Partner They Think You Are
A 2022 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology investigated the effects of “perceived partner responsiveness,” which refers to how caring, understanding, validating, and responsive your partner perceives you to be.
The study suggests that the greater the perceived responsiveness a partner sees in you, the more positively they will interpret your sacrifices. Essentially, when a partner views your responsiveness more positively, it leads to positive sacrifice appraisals. This means they see your gestures as having reduced costs, making them feel less like sacrifices.
This perception can mitigate the impact of daily compromises, requests for specific changes in behavior, and even significant life-altering decisions like relocating to support your partner's career. This is accompanied by greater feelings of satisfaction, personal and relational benefits, lower regret, as well as a greater willingness to sacrifice in the future due to the closeness and positive emotions felt towards their partner.
So, how do you go about increasing perceived partner responsiveness in your relationship? According to the study, seeing one’s partner making the effort to meet three fundamental psychological needs is key:
- Autonomy, which involves respecting and encouraging your partner's independence, allowing them to make decisions and pursue their personal passions.
- Competence, which means acknowledging, appreciating, and supporting your partner's skills, talents, and achievements, making them feel capable and accomplished.
- Relatedness, which emphasizes building and maintaining an emotional connection, ensuring both partners feel understood, valued, and emotionally close to one another.
2. What Your Intention Behind the Sacrifice Is
How your partner views a sacrifice you have made also depends on your motives. A 2018 study published in Emotion pointed out the difference between partner-focused, relationship-focused, and self-focused motives.
According to the study, sacrifices based on partner-focused motives (to promote your partner’s well-being) tend to make your partner feel grateful, partly because of perceived partner responsiveness.
On the other hand, sacrifices based on relationship-focused motives (to promote the quality of the relationship) or self-focused motives (to feel good about themselves) were not met with the same gratitude.
This could be because such motives might be perceived as being tainted with underlying self-interest. Genuine sacrifices resonate more when they emerge from an authentic desire to prioritize and cater to your partner's needs, rather than being a tool for self-benefit or merely to stabilize the relationship.
3. What Their Sacrifice Expectations Are
A 2019 study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships showed that a person’s sacrifice expectations (beliefs that sacrifices are necessary, normal, and expected in relationships) impact how much they appreciate a partner’s sacrifices, as well as the relationship satisfaction they feel.
The study discovered that when participants had low expectations of their partner making sacrifices, any sacrifices made were met with heightened feelings of gratitude, respect, and appreciation. However, if sacrifice expectations were high, there was no such appreciation, probably because the sacrifice had either aligned with or fallen short of their expectations.
Communicating expectations early on in a relationship can prepare couples for what each partner will need in the future, as well as what they can and cannot sacrifice. This is an essential aspect of building relationships filled with appreciation, authentic acts of service, compassion, mutual respect, and lasting intimacy.
In relationships, making sacrifices can be a double-edged sword. While it can deepen our connection, it can also lead to misunderstandings if not perceived as genuine. It's not the grand gestures, but the daily acts of kindness and understanding that truly matter. We need to be clear about why we're sacrificing—is it genuinely for our partner, or is there a hint of self-interest?
And, remember, what we might see as a big sacrifice, our partner might expect as standard. By understanding these nuances, we can better navigate the complexities of love and sacrifice.