3 Ways To Avoid Tainting Your Relationship With Too Much Sacrifice

A good relationship requires a certain degree of sacrifice—but too much of it can cause problems. Here's how to find balance.

Mark Travers, Ph.D.

By Mark Travers, Ph.D. | June 10, 2024

Romantic relationships are greatly dependent on our constant efforts to maintain and strengthen the bond. In an endeavor to attain happiness with one's partner, one might have to sacrifice on several occasions. You might face situations where your preferences, interests and goals do not align with your partner's. In these situations, you will have to decide between pursuing your own self-interest and sacrificing your preferences for your partner or the relationship.

Aside from your own sacrifices, your expectations from your partner to make sacrifices can have deep-seated effects on your relationship. A 2019 study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships found that individuals with lower sacrifice expectations feel greater appreciation, gratitude and relationship satisfaction when they perceive their partners making sacrifices.

Higher sacrifice expectations, however, do not improve satisfaction and can corrode the relationship beyond repair. It becomes imperative to effectively manage these expectations to create mutual harmony.

These three steps can help you master sacrifice expectations in love, according to research.

1. Identify Signs Of Imbalance

The first step in controlling expectations is becoming aware that there might be an uneven dispersion of sacrifices. You might be putting undue pressure on your partner to make sacrifices to keep the peace.

Expecting your partner to make sacrifices at every turn can lead to them feeling resentful about the unfair dynamics within your relationship. For instance, you want to eat sushi but your partner wants to eat pizza; or you want to buy a house but your partner wants to keep renting an apartment.

Whether the impending situation is big or small, if your partner is always expected to abandon their stance and agree with you, it is bound to put a strain on your relationship.

Aiming for reciprocity in sacrifices can help fix the cracks caused by the imbalance. Indeed, a 2020 study published in Cogent Psychology concluded that reciprocity in self-sacrifice results in increased self-disclosure and feelings of togetherness.

Creating a healthy balance by setting equivalent sacrifice expectations for you and your partner can lead to a more harmonious relationship.

2. Empathize With Your Partner

The second step in managing sacrifice expectations is putting yourself in your partner's shoes and attempting to understand them better.

Being able to identify core values can highlight the preferences and goals that are important to your partner. This can help you recognize which sacrifices are significant and better appreciate the reasons behind their actions and decisions. This will also allow you to adjust your expectations accordingly and create equilibrium in love.

Additionally, empathizing with your partner can help you conduct cost-benefit analyses while taking your partner's viewpoint into consideration. A 2020 study published in Psychological Bulletin found that high cost of sacrifice significantly lowers personal well-being and relationship well-being.

Determining whether the benefits of a sacrifice are worth the cost to your partner can promote fairness and make your partner feel loved. Cultivating such empathy creates a foundation for realistic and fair expectations.

3. Acknowledge Sacrifices And Find A Solution

The third step in managing your sacrifice expectations focuses on finding a happy medium and acknowledging your partner's sacrifices.

High sacrifice expectations can take a toll on a couple and fracture their relationship profoundly. A 2022 study published in Current Opinion in Psychology discussed strategies to deal with the "goals and preferences" conflict between a couple.

Researchers suggest that employing alternative solutions can help partners find compromises that meet both their needs. And, regularly appraising sacrifices allows couples to adjust expectations as their relationship evolves.

Additionally, a study published in Social Psychological and Personality Science concluded that individuals are only able to perceive their partners' sacrifices 50% of the time. Their sacrifices go unnoticed half of the time which can negatively impact partners' satisfaction. In contrast, perceiving a sacrifice elicits gratitude within the individual and improves relationship satisfaction.

Consistently finding balanced solutions and staying attuned to each other's sacrifices will help manage expectations effectively and strengthen the relationship.

Managing sacrifice expectations is crucial for a healthy and balanced relationship. It's important to remember that sacrifice is a natural part of any relationship. By working together to find a balance, you can create a healthier and more fulfilling bond. Remember, prioritizing relationship health, communicating openly and adjusting expectations accordingly will pave the way for enduring happiness together.

Do you think your partner acknowledges your sacrifices? Take the Relationship Satisfaction Scale to know for sure.

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