Monday, June 11, 2012

The Pros and Cons of Sacrificing for the Ones We Love

This is the first in a three-part post on sacrifice in relationships. Today, in Part I, I talk about the pros and cons of sacrificing for the ones we love. In part II, I’ll suggest some questions you should ask yourself when deciding whether or not to make a major sacrifice. Part III will focus on sacrificing for the right reasons.

Would you make the move?
Your spouse comes home from work and excitedly tells you that he just was offered a promotion – in another state. Do you quit your job and move away from your family to an unknown city so that he can pursue his career ambitions? Should you?

Close relationships require sacrifice. In fact, many people include sacrificing in the very definition of what it means to truly love another person. Sometimes that sacrifice can be life changing, such as deciding to move to a different state in order to be with your partner, other times it might be something small and seemingly mundane such as seeing your partner’s pick of an action movie instead of the comedy you would have chosen. Although sacrifice may be inevitable, when the time comes to do it, it’s not always an easy choice. For me, I find myself weighing my need to be true to myself and authentic in my relationship (why should I be the one giving up what I want?) against my desire to be a good relationship partner and do what it takes to make my relationship work (if this is important to him, I should be supportive). Research on sacrifice in close relationships highlights some of the pros and cons of sacrificing something for the ones we love.

The pros:

-A longer-lasting and happier relationship. Relationships are more likely to last when people are willing to make sacrifices for the sake of the relationship. Couples are also more happy in relationships where the partners are willing to sacrifice for each other… it’s nice to know you care about each other enough to make the other person your top priority.  

-A nice little pat on the back. By making a sacrifice for your partner, you’ve proven to yourself that you have what it takes to be a good relationship partner. It also feels good to help someone you care about. Seeing your partner’s happy grin when you agree to attend their high school reunion instead of stay home and work may make the sacrifice worth it.

-A happier partner who is likely to reciprocate. Being willing to sacrifice for your partner lets them know that you care about them – and a happy, cared about partner is a good partner. A happy, cared about partner is also a partner who will be more likely to sacrifice for you when the time comes.

The cons:

-Feeling inauthentic. Particularly in the US, we are raised with the belief that we need to be true to ourselves. By giving up something you want, or doing something you don’t want to do, all for the sake of your partner, you run the risk of feeling like you aren’t being true to yourself.

-Imbalance of power. If you are happy to sacrifice early on in the relationship and your partner isn’t reciprocating, you may find yourself in a situation where you are the one who is always expected to give up and give in.  Over time this imbalanced pattern of sacrifice may lead to an imbalance of power in your relationship.

-Feeling badly about yourself. Some people are also constantly sacrificing because they think of themselves as someone who “helps out others.” These type of people endorse statements like “I can’t say no when someone asks for my help.” This attitude is known as unmitigated communion and people who exhibit this attitude suffer from anxiety, poor self-esteem and poorer health. Women are particularly likely to engage in unmitigated communion.

In short, sacrificing for someone you love may help you show them you care and may even make you feel good about yourself. But if you find yourself always being the one who sacrifices or feeling forced to make a sacrifice, then you should tread with care.

What are some other pros and cons of sacrificing? Have you had experiences with choosing whether or not to make an important sacrifice?

Further reading:

Impett, E.A., & Gordon, A. M., (2008). For the good of others: Toward a positive psychology of sacrifice. In S. J. Lopez (Ed.), Positive Psychology Perspective Series (Vol. 2). Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group.

Van Lange, P., Rusbult, C., Drigotas, S., Arriaga, X., Witcher, B., & Cox, C. (1997). Willingness to sacrifice in close relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 72 (6), 1373-1395 DOI: 10.1037/0022-3514.72.6.1373

Drigotas, S., Rusbult, C., & Verette, J. (1999). Level of commitment, mutuality of commitment, and couple well-being Personal Relationships, 6 (3), 389-409 DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-6811.1999.tb00199.x


  1. What this describes to me is the power of social influence in everyday relationships. Nobody wants to be pushed around but yet when we start to conform to their needs and wants all the time they end up taking control of us. There has to be a balance in a relationship. You see more and more where there is always a dominate spouse. We all have a sense of self. We know where we stand compared to others but when conformity starts taking hold we change our own wants to make others happy. So after a while we lose our since of it being our choice and it turns more into a command. We start being obedient. We lose our independence. We need to know how to and when to say no...

    1. Agreed, it is important to make sure we are making the choice to sacrifice and are not simply being obedient. It is a careful balance - being willing to do nice things for your partner but not let them walk all over you.

      Thanks for reading!

  2. When in a relationship there may be thoughts of "Well, what am I going to get out of this?" "Am I doing this for me or am I doing this for them? "What does that mean to me?" Truly sought after love is sometimes discovered this way. Just how far will one go or how much will one sacrifice to discover they love someone? I personally think a lot of relationships as well are influenced by social influence. There is typically a factor that brought the two people into a relationship to begin with. As time goes on they start to figure one another out personality wise a bit more. In some relationships they will develope conformity to one another which sometimes that conformity is obedience. In this case it may not be the "You must obey all my desires" but to be obedient to one another that "commitment" factor. I am in the middle of making an important sacrifice myself. I will be sacrificing a lot and there are some pros and a lot of cons but in the end it boils down to love.

    1. That's a great point Amber - realizing how much we're willing to sacrifice for someone may help us realize our true feelings for them.

      Thanks for reading,

  3. To me, this does not sound like a relationship. It's okay to sacrifice things for your partner, but when you are the only one that does it all the time, you are just becoming this obedient person that conforms to what your partner wants. You should never let someone control your life and you need to stand up for yourself. This just reminded me of what we were talking about in my psychology class (conformity and obedience) and I don't think it is right. You should never lose sight of who you are.

    1. Agreed it can be tricky to keep sight of who you are in a relationship, though it is important to keep track of whether you are losing your sense of self due to your own actions, or whether your partner is actually being demanding. Sometimes people may choose to sacrifice even though their partner isn't asking it of them.

      Thanks for your comment,

  4. Every relationship requires one person or the other to make sacrifices once in awhile to create a balance. It is important for each person in the relationship to conform a little bit, but not lose sight of who they are as a person. If your partner is trying to change your opinions, religious views ideas it is no longer a balance. One may allow themself to be socially influenced so they are accepted by the one they love, but it could draw problems in the future when they realize their partner is not contributing the same way. Each choice a person makes has positive and negative features, but once the decision is made the person will try and rationalize why it was okay for them to "conform" for their partner.

    1. Great comment Cody. Thanks for reading!


  5. In a relationship there has to be a balance between the two people. Both people have to be willing to conform and be "obedient" or they can choose to be informational socially influenced and not sacrifice anything and would not be happy unless it's your way. In that case the relationship would be a shoe in to not succeed. The two have to find a balance in their decision making, they have to either do what is right for them as a couple or just them themselves.

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