By Carol Church, Writer, Family Album
Reviewed by Suzanna Smith, PhD, Department of Family, Youth, and Community Sciences, University of Florida
It’s been a tough day. A project fell through at work, you got a flat tire, and your child forgot her lunch—again. Now you’re almost all the way home, and suddenly remember that your spouse’s dry-cleaning still needs to be picked up. Do you really have it in you to do that favor for him or her?
Recent research in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships suggests that on days like this, it may be all right to skip that little sacrifice. In the study, about 160 long-term couples were asked to keep track of their daily hassle level and the number of small sacrifices they made for their partners over the course of seven days. (For instance, they might have made a schedule change or done a household task to help out their spouse.) They also rated how committed they felt to their relationships.
At times, people who made sacrifices for their partners did appear to benefit from their good deeds, feeling a sense of increased commitment to their relationships. However, sacrificers only reported these feelings on days that were otherwise pretty trouble-free for them–in other words, on days when they weren’t already loaded down with stress.
In fact, on days full of problems, acts of sacrifice had no positive effects on either partner. That’s right–the person getting the benefit of the other partner’s good deed didn’t seem to notice or appreciate it! (Of course, the study may have missed some more subtle effects.) Surprisingly, the only benefits found in this study were experienced by those making the sacrifices.
With all this in mind, the study’s authors suggest that going out of your way to do a favor for your spouse or partner may be more worthwhile on low-hassle days. It’s also always a great idea to make more of an effort to notice your partner’s positive behaviors…leading to more appreciation all around.
Totenhagen, C. J., Curran, M. A., Serido, J., & Butler, E. A. (2013). Good days, bad days: Do sacrifices improve relationship quality? Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 30(7), 881-900. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0265407512472475
(Originally published in a slightly different form as: Church, C. (2013). Sacrifices for partner not always beneficial. [Radio broadcast episode]. Family Album Radio. Gainesville, FL: University of Florida.)