Sacrificing for your partner when stressed doesn’t help, new couple study says
Did you take out the garbage, wash the dishes, pick up the kids, miss the game or a night out with your friends because you know your partner is tired or stressed? It appears these little silent loving sacrifices we make for our partners aren’t such a good idea especially if you’ve had a stressful day too.
A new study, “Good Days, Bad Days: When Should You Make Sacrifices in a Relationship?” from the University of Arizona, in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, and led by research scientist Casey Totenhagen, analyzes the sacrifices of 164 married and unmarried couples in a quest to understand what makes “good relationships good and bad relationships bad?.
The couples relationships ranged in length from six months to 44 years. They were asked over 7 days to report on how many daily sacrifices they made for their partners during the day. The areas of sacrifice were separated into 12 categories including child care, household tasks and amount of time spent with friends. They also had to report how many stressful and aggravating moments they experienced during the day and ranked on a scale of 1 to 7, how close and committed they felt to their partners and how satisfied they felt with their relationship that day.
For purposes of the study, sacrifice was defined not as a large, life-altering decision but rather as a small change in daily routine in order to do something nice for a partner and maintain the quality of the relationship.
Researchers found that individuals who sacrificed for their significant other generally reported feeling more committed to their partners when they did nice things for them. But when they made sacrifices on days when they had experienced a lot of stress, they didn’t feel more committed.
The researchers noticed that ‘sacrificial loving’ just becomes one more added stressor if you are already running low from your own challenges during the day. Researchers also noted that the partner on the receiving end didn’t report feeling more committed or closer to the partner after their sacrifice. It appears that a stressed-out receiving partner may be totally unaware that their partner had done anything special for them. Regardless of who was having the bad day though, both partners were affected.
If I have a terrible day at work, I’m going to come home feeling grumpy, and probably my quality of interaction with my partner won’t be as great. And if my partner has a stressful day, they’re probably coming home feeling grumpy and they won’t have the energy to have positive interactions, so I still suffer from my partner’s stressful day.
The researchers suggest confronting and working through daily issues together before ‘molehills become mountains’ and help each other compartmentalize work and personal lives to avoid a ‘spillover; effect and save those silent sacrifices for days when your anxiety ridden partner is capable of receiving your loving gesture.
Listen to podcast:
Relationship Matters Podcast Number 22 “Good days, bad days: Do sacrifices improve long-term relationships?”: In this podcast, Casey Totenhagen at the University of Arizona talks about whether personal sacrifices improve the quality of long-term relationships.