More on Sacrifice in Love/Marriage

Several readers have asked me to be more specific about the difference between “short term compromises” and all-out sacrifice, the latter of which I’ve written should not be part of romantic love or marriage.

A short-term compromise is doing something because it makes your partner happy — and, at the same time, it makes you happy to see someone you love happy.

You might be indifferent about where to eat dinner tonight. Your spouse has a preference. So you go with what your spouse wants, even though it might not have been your first choice. You won’t eat somewhere you know you hate; that would be a sacrifice. To do something that isn’t your first choice is not.

Short-term compromises don’t only refer to small things. Once in awhile they can refer to bigger things too. For example, a major trip overseas might not be something you would do if your partner didn’t want to do it. At the same time, you’re not opposed to it, either, and you can afford it. You agree, or perhaps make a deal or a compromise. “Let’s do the trip this time. But the trip after that I’d like to be someplace else.”

Compromises and “deals” are never made resentfully. You agree to them freely when you love someone. And, more importantly, you agree to them — in fact, want to do them — because you enjoy putting a smile on the face of someone you love.

Sometimes the way to evaluate this issue is to ask yourself, “Is it more important for my partner to do such-and-such than it is for me NOT to do it?” If so, then you have your compromise and, given that you love the person, it makes a lot of sense.

A compromise can never be made about a deal breaker. If the thing you’re being asked to compromise on violates one of your basic principles, or undermines the whole love relationship in the first place, then you have a potential deal breaker. One partner is sure of never wanting to have children, while the other is sure of wanting two within the next 5 years … that’s a likely deal breaker. Deceit or betrayal? Those are always deal breakers, in love most of all, and I don’t care who you are; that principle isn’t optional.

Sometimes, even a major life-changing decision can be the result of a compromise. One spouse wants to move away to a different state (or perhaps needs to because of a career reason). The other would never do so of his own initiative. But his life can be fundamentally the same even with the move. It’s a compromise (and upheaval) of major proportions. But it’s not a sacrifice. So he does it, because in the overall scheme of things it’s more important to have a satisfied and content spouse than it is to uphold his first preference. What looks like a deal breaker at first glance is not necessarily one, not if you love someone.

Remember that the proper definition of “self-sacrifice” is literally surrendering one’s life, one’s most important values, one’s deepest wants, one’s most cherished principles. If what you want and cherish are actually reasonable, possible, sustainable things, then you need not (should not) give them up. If being with somebody in a romantic commitment requires you to do so, then maybe you have to reevaluate that entire commitment.

Lovers sometimes say things like, “I sacrificed for you. I did this or that for you. I worked while you went through medical and law school, etc.” Let’s break this down for a minute. Hopefully, you did these things because you loved the person. You might give to charity, but you wouldn’t pay for a person’s entire medical or law school if he or she was a stranger (unless perhaps you were exceedingly wealthy and saw the person as unusually bright and special.) You put your spouse through medical school precisely because of the self-interested gratification — mental, physical, the whole package — you get out of being with her. Leaving aside some horrible betrayal, you have no business claiming you did this selflessly after the fact when, in truth, you did it selfishly — and that’s OK! That’s indeed how it should be.

People set up this false code of morality for themselves. They are taught by nearly everyone, and tell themselves as a result, that the measure of virtue is self-sacrifice. When they’re in conflict with their partner, they try to lord this over the person they supposedly love. “You’re selfish.” If someone said this to me, my attitude would be, “Well I hope so. You don’t want me to love you out of charity, do you?” There’s a conversation stopper for you, but it’s also true. We love another individual in order to fulfill our own desires. We don’t love the person as an object, as a possession or as our slave. We love the person for being who he or she is. In the best-case scenario of relationship or marriage, that’s how it works: “All you have to do is be who you are, and it lights up my life. (And vice-versa).”

Self-sacrifice should be the last thing on your mind.


Questions from readers on this important issue are welcome. Please keep them coming!

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