Relationship Advice Tips For Couples by Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D.

giving20over20power - What type of self-sacrifice benefits intimate relationships?

Is giving into your partner a worthwhile sacrifice?

Have you ever given into your loved one during a discussion to avoid an argument?

Do you find yourself taking the trash out before your partner complains about the mess?

If so, your sense of well-being and self-worth may be compromised over the long term and ultimately destroy the intimacy in your relationship.

It all depends on the motives at play – many of which you aren’t aware of until you are upset and thwarted.

It all rests on where the gain lies.

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Is it to avoid something negative        or get something positive?

Self-sacrifice in a relationship backfires if you are trying to avoid something unpleasant

Declan loved attending his book club on Wednesday nights. He enjoyed the camaraderie, the shared interest, the stimulating conversation and the various interpretations of the chapter that members had read. He felt expanded and inspired to get on with his novel which he had been working on for the last year.

By the end of the month he would have to give up his favorite hobby. He would have to say goodbye to friends. It was too much to take when his partner Lucinda accused him of being too intellectual. The mockery of his interest in classical literature made him feel ostracized and alien.

Declan’s relationship with Lucinda was very important to him. They had known each other since high school. As their relationship became more serious and they set up home together, things shifted. There were more expectations of how a couple should be with one another. There were more ways to demonstrate commitment and prove love.

His passion for literature and writing had been something Lucinda admired and encouraged while they were dating. But now Lucinda complained about him being away one night a week. She complained that he was more interested in books than in her. She treated him like a stranger when he came home from the book club meeting and kept making snide remarks about his wish to become a published writer.

Declan had a choice to make

He made a choice of self-sacrifice that involved giving up the book club just so he could avoid being treated badly by Lucinda.

It was a big sacrifice. Declan was giving up an integral part of himself, his sense of self and ambition for the future. It was like cutting off his right arm.


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The carrot                                                          or the stick?

Self-sacrifice in close intimate relationships has a negative effect if it is done to avoid an anticipated evil. An article in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2005 indicates that when the motivation to sacrifice is to get away from something unpleasant like Lucinda’s mocking and baiting, then Declan is likely to have a much reduced sense of well-being. Satisfaction in the relationship between Declan and Lucinda is also likely to go downhill.

Where self-sacrifice is the reason for keeping a relationship ticking over to avoid arguments etc. it actually has the opposite effect.

Lucinda stopped mocking and complaining. Declan felt relieved that he no longer had to withstand the insults. But he also found himself getting colder towards Lucinda. He did what he had to in order to keep her happy, but he felt cheated inside. The emotional intimacy between them dried up. They had fewer joint joyful moments of fun. Declan was less interested in physical intimacy. He did his duty but with little genuine pleasure. The quality of the relationship suffered and both felt less and less satisfied.

Research indicates that self-sacrifice in intimate relationships improves the connections when it is done to obtain something positive – in other words when there is a carrot to aim for.

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comfortable intimacy comes from aiming for positive interactions

Here are the benefits If Declan gives up his book club for tutoring with Lucinda on topics they both love,

  • The relationship warms up and lights the fire of joyful connection
  • Intimacy thrives as Declan and Lucinda feel special and important
  • Declan  feels good about himself because he was loved and valued.
  • Lucinda feels included in Declan’s passion and gives him more space to follow him dream to become a writer
  • The relationship flourishes


 copyright, Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D.

Disclaimer: this article is for informational and educative purposes only. There is no liability on the part of Dr. Raymond for any reactions you may have when reading the content or using the suggestions therein. Interacting with this material does not constitute a therapeutic relationship with Dr. Raymond.