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How Daily Sacrifices Affect Your Relationship

The researchers hypothesized that the reason for the sacrifice would influence each partner’s satisfaction with the relationship, and they distinguished two types:
Approach the motive, in which you choose to sacrifice yourself in a way that benefits the relationship. Giving in to make your partner happy or to balance the exchange of sacrifices are examples of approach motivation. Above, Amanda acted on an approach motive when she agreed to spend the vacation with Brendon’s family because she knew she and her parents would like it.
Avoidance pattern, in which you choose to act in a way that manages threats to the relationship. Giving in to your partner to avoid feeling guilty or hurting their feelings is an example of an avoidance pattern. Above, Dylan followed an avoidance pattern when he gave in to Chloe’s preference because he felt guilty for hurting her feelings.
The researchers hypothesized that when a partner’s decision to sacrifice themselves was based on a motive for approach, both partners would experience an increase in relationship satisfaction. In contrast, when a sacrifice was based on an avoidance motive, both partners would feel less satisfied with their relationship.
The data generally supported this hypothesis. On days when one partner reported approach-motivated sacrifice, both partners reported above-average relationship satisfaction. Likewise, on days when one partner reported avoidance-motivated sacrifice, both partners reported decreased satisfaction with their relationship.
This finding is interesting because the same behavior – making a sacrifice for your partner – had opposite effects on the relationship satisfaction of both partners, depending on the motive behind that behavior.
It is easier to see this from the point of view of the one making the sacrifice. If you give in to make your partner happy, you will probably feel good about yourself – you did something right to improve the relationship. However, if you give in to avoid feeling guilty, you’re probably going to focus on what the sacrifice cost you – and that will likely make you feel bad.
From the other partner’s point of view, however, the dynamics are more subtle. Our attitudes towards our behaviors are influenced by our motives for performing them, and these attitudes can affect our mood.
Even if your partner doesn’t know that you sacrificed yourself for the sake of approach, your upturn in mood over the next few hours or days will be evident to your partner. And it will also affect your partner’s mood in a positive way.
Likewise, when you sacrifice yourself for avoidance motivation, it will negatively impact your mood. Your partner will feel it and be affected by it as well.
The researchers also found long-term effects on relationship satisfaction with the approach versus sacrificial avoidance motives. In particular, it had to do with volatility, or the extent to which the relationship satisfaction of each partner varies from day to day.
When couples usually act on the grounds of approach when sacrificing themselves, both partners maintain a relatively high but constant level of relationship satisfaction. However, when generally acting out of avoidance motives, both partners report larger fluctuations in their level of satisfaction with the relationship. Apparently, the reasons for avoidance elicit more conflicting feelings than the reasons for approach, both for the partner who sacrificed and for the partner who benefited.
Relationships always involve sacrifice. And yet the attitudes we have towards the sacrifices we make can have a huge impact on the relationship, both now and in the long term. When we make sacrifices to avoid bad feelings, we start a vicious cycle in which neither partner is satisfied. But when we sacrifice ourselves as a gift to our partner, we trigger a virtuous cycle that we both benefit from.

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