Self-sacrifice in Relationships is Looking for Trouble

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two ways

Self-sacrifice happens when we do something for someone else we don’t want to do. We then sacrifice ourselves – our time, effort, energy etc – hoping the other person will do the same.

I would like to start with a vivid example of how self-sacrifice can look like in a couple. Make your own idea about its effectiveness.

The context: SHE is a housewife taking care of the household and the kids. HE is a salesman who doesn’t like his job but needs the money (Yes, a cliché marriage but for the example it serves well).

She spends the day taking care of the house. She cleans the house, takes care of the garden, cooks dinner, re-decorates the rooms, buys flowers, brings the kids to and from school. At the end of the day she’s just exhausted. She didn’t take a minute for herself. She didn’t read the book she wanted, didn’t take a bath she was looking forward to. Of course she didn’t have to do all the things she did, but she wants to impress her husband. She wants him to appreciate all the daily self-sacrifice she does

The husband comes home. He’s had a difficult day. Tired and annoyed by the clients he takes off his coat and falls on the sofa. At least he can share some thoughts about the day with his wife. He explains how bad his day went, all those useless conversations he had, with his boss shouting at him and no sale achieved. He hates his job, but it’s well-paid so he takes the sacrifice, as he needs to make a good living for his family. 

Of course he doesn’t see the new decoration nor does he comment on the food she cooked. She’s disappointed and sad. She starts thinking of all the stuff she could have done for herself instead – the book, the bath, meet her friends.

On the other hand, she doesn’t appreciate what he’s doing for the family by enduring a job he hates. She didn’t comment on anything, barely listening to what he was saying. He’s fed up and wonders if this job and the sacrifice it means is worth it.

They go to sleep, feeling let down by the other. Both wanted the same: appreciation and acknowledgement. But neither of them was able to give it.   

Self-sacrifice is an unspoken condition of now me and later you

Self-sacrifice is a give-and-take and that’s normal in relationships… we think. But all too often, the other person has no idea that we “sacrificed”. What follows is a sense of injustice and disappointment that creates a bad atmosphere.

Why’s that? Because self-sacrifice doesn’t work. You give as a form of negotiation, setting the ground for something to get. It has nothing to do with unconditional giving.

Self-sacrifice comes from the ego and is full of pride. Pride is what makes us angry when the other person does not sacrifice as well. The act of giving is something we actually don’t like doing (it wouldn’t be a “sacrifice” otherwise) and it’s not unconditional. It’s just looking for trouble, as we put pressure on the other person to do the same.

Real giving comes from the heart. You give because you want to, no expectations in return. It’s a gift, it’s unconditional. Unconditional means I don’t want anything in return and I also don’t mind what you do with what I give you (in case it’s something material). Self-sacrifice, however, implies an unspoken condition of now me and later you.

If you want to do yourself and your partner a favour, don’t see your relationship as a give-and-take. It’s a constant inner and outer battle of who did what and when and if it equals to what the other did. If you do something for your partner, do it because you want to. See it as a gift for the other person. Cook a meal for your partner because you want to, not because you need a pat on the shoulder or twenty-three likes on Facebook.

And if it’s something you really don’t want to do? You always have a choice. Do it or not. But if you do, don’t see it as a sacrifice, but as a nice gesture from your side. It will make things so much easier.