Research consistently indicates that individuals who are willing to make sacrifices – both small and large – for their romantic partners tend to have more satisfying romantic relationships. However, some of my research has demonstrated individuals’ reasons for making these sacrifices may be just as important as the sacrifice itself (Mattingly & Clark, in press at JASP*). In particular, individuals who make sacrifices as a way of obtaining positive outcomes in their relationship (e.g., make the partner happy, become closer to the partner) tend to be more satisfied in their relationships, whereas those who make sacrifices as a way of avoiding negative outcomes (e.g., avoid conflict, avoid upsetting the partner) tend to be less satisfied. What this means is that the same sacrifice (e.g., going to the opera if you would rather stay at home and watch football) can lead to different relationship outcomes. If the reason an individual makes this sacrifice is because he/she wants to become closer to his/her partner, then the relationship will likely benefit. However, if the individual makes this sacrifice more so out of obligation or because he/she wants to avoid an argument, then the relationship may actually suffer. In essence, doing the behavior isn’t good enough – you have to WANT to do the behavior in order for it to be beneficial (and in fact, begrudgingly doing the behavior may be counterproductive).
*Results of this study will be published in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Applied Social Psychology.