Every relationship has its highs and lows, good days and bad, and sometimes sacrifices are made for the greater good with little thought to immediate gratitude or reciprocation.
You both have come in from a long day of work and errands, whereupon he decides he’s going to plop down in front of the computer or the television “for a few minutes” to unwind and decompress from the tedious drag of the day.
You’d love to do the same but laundry needs to be folded and put away and the dishes need to be put into the dishwasher before the day is officially done, and hubby isn’t making a move from his chair to tackle a single task.
Even though you’ve both had a stressful day you decide to be sweet and helpful, willing forth a little extra energy to get it all done. Thereafter, you feel a swell of self-satisfaction and assume at the very least he sees and appreciates the effort, and would do the same for you.
Acts of sacrifice in a relationship is par for the course. However forfeiting personal time and energy one too many times (one-sidedly) too often with little acknowledgement and reciprocation can cause feelings of resentment and frustration to develop and fester.
After a while you start questioning if your partner is taking your kindness for granted – if you are enabling their laziness and lack of consideration. You feel more committed to their happiness and the overall relationship than they seem to be in return.
A University of Arizona study titled, “Good Days, Bad Days: Do Sacrifices Improve Relationship Quality?” examined a similar paradigm, and suggests that while making sacrifices in a romantic relationship is generally a healthy thing, doing so on days when you are feeling especially stressed may not be beneficial.
The report was co-authored by Casey Totenhagen, a research scientist in the UA John & Doris Norton School of Family and Consumer Sciences, Melissa Curran, Emily Butler, and Joyce Serido.
Participants, 164 married and unmarried couples, whose relationships ranged from six months to 44 years, responded to survey questions. Each of the 328 contributors completed daily online surveys for seven straight days.
Sacrifices, for the purposes of the study, were defined as small daily practices done to maintain the quality of the relationship. These selfless contributions performed for their partner were classified into one of 12 categories, such as child care and household tasks. Additionally they were asked the number of everyday annoyances they encountered and how the stress affected them. Individual opinions on the commitment level of corresponding partners were also scored on a scale of one to seven – asking how unified and satisfied they felt about their significant other and the status of the relationship on each particular day.
The results, in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, highlighted how individuals who made sacrifices for their significant others reported feeling more committed to their partners. But when partners made sacrifices on particularly stressful days, when they had experienced a significant number of aggravations, they felt less committed. After a certain point the acts became more of a bothersome task – just one more thing to do instead of a loving gesture.
Totenhagen suggested, “You need to be mindful of the resources that you have to do those sacrifices at the end of the day. Maybe trying to pile on more sacrifices at the end of a really stressful day isn’t the best time.”
Under the study circumstances, sacrifices did not significantly predict satisfaction, but stress or a spillover effect of frustration from the day experienced by either partner did influence closeness. Interaction between partners would logically be of poorer quality after a stressful day, but researchers urge that couples work through the issues together before daily stressors have a chance to build up.
Individuals on the receiving end of a partner’s effort did not report feeling more committed to their partner, perhaps because they were oblivious that their partner had done anything special for them. The lack of awareness is something Totenhagen hopes to study more in-depth in the future.
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