BlogSacrifice: A Tool for Manipulation in Relationships

October 4, 2010by Frank Love18

I recently participated in a “relationship” exchange with a young lady related to my blog “Thank God for Affairs.” The exchange had to do with the sacrifices that those in relationships make.  My partner in the conversation said, “I’ve certainly sacrificed my own personal happiness for others at times, and I see my close family members doing that for others too. My dad taught me to ‘grind through it.'”

There is a long-standing tool of manipulation that many of us use to get others to do what we want called “sacrifice.”  We have all heard or told someone to act in a given manner because someone else, or maybe you, sacrificed for them to be able to go to a good school, eat, or whatever.  It is a very convincing and effective form of manipulation.  In fact, when it occurs, it is generally a form of give and take in action.  The speaker in this case has been told that someone sacrificed for him/her and now s/he uses the “sacrifice card” when s/he wants someone else to do something, thereby dishing out what was given.  This tool is alive and well in many relationships.

I have heard stories/complaints from people when talking about difficult circumstances in relationships that included “She sacrificed her best years so that he could have children.”  Or “He sacrificed his career so that she could have her’s.”

I am not saying that we do not do things that benefit others nor benefit from actions that others do for themselves.  Quite the contrary, everything that is done benefits someone else.  But the primary and most basic beneficiary of everything that we do is ourselves.  There is a difference between sacrificing and investing.  We invest.  We do not sacrifice.  Investments can go both ways.  We may be praised or resented for them.  We may make or lose money.  There is no guarantee that our energy will be rewarded the way that we hope.  Seeing the give and take of relationships in terms of investments rather than sacrifices transforms our perspectives in a healthy way.

Examples of sacrifices, in relationships, may include one partner staying at home with the children while the other works.  Another is that one partner may commute two and a half hours each day to work in order to provide for his/her family.  These are both potentially arduous uses of energy.  At the same time, they are also investments in the life of the family, and consequently investments in their identity or role as the husband/wife.

By understanding the difference between sacrifice and investment, we have the opportunity to be more honest with ourselves and the people in our lives.  We get to be clear about our intentions and the burdens that we often place on others (including our mates and our children) for our own purposes.  We also have the unique opportunity to discuss with others their true intentions when we are told we are the occasion for their sacrifice.

The distinction between “investment” and “sacrifice” goes a long way when trying to understand the idea of “relationship.”  Sacrifices are made for the sake of saying that we “sacrificed,” and to get someone else to feel guilty.  Try and think of a situation where saying “I sacrificed . . .” is not meant to sway the listener.  I cannot think of any.  Some may say that great leaders such as Mahatma Ghandi, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mother Teresa sacrificed for others. This is not true. Each of these exceptional individuals invested in their future. They did not sacrifice. Admittedly, I have benefitted from their investments, and I offer a hearty “thank you” to each of them for their efforts. But it would be an exaggeration and a mistake to say that they sacrificed for others.

Instead of attempting to sway your mate by noting a sacrifice that you have made for him/her, be upfront and just state that there is something that you would like for them to do.  Many will appreciate the candor and will be happy to oblige. Others may respond “no.”  These and other responses are both equally healthy. After all, if you were not open to the person’s genuine response (which certainly could have included “no”) you were being manipulative from the start.

The importance of being clear about “sacrifice” and “needs” is for our own growth. Through the willingness to “call a spade a spade,” or to note that we are attempting to reap the harvest of our “investment,” instead of the veiled expectations that we relay based on our “sacrifices,” we free ourselves to live our dreams and seek fulfillment that is free of the chains of other’s “sacrifices.”

Many of us feel obligated to live our life a certain way or to adhere to what other people believe that we should be doing, while wrestling with an inner-voice that is calling us to do something different, unique or original.  Do not use “sacrifice” as a tool for preventing others from living their dreams and don’t allow anyone else to use “sacrifice” to hold you back either. We can live our own dreams, and allow our partners to pursue their’s too!  Please give the gifts of freedom to yourself and others.

Keep Rising,

Frank Love


Do me a favor, don’t do me no favors. – Jay-Z

…and please do not multi-task when driving.

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  • JF

    October 4, 2010 at 6:25 PM

    If the intent is, as you put it, to manipulate, then shifting to the frame or language of “investment” will not avoid that. Moreover, in a cost-benefit analysis, investment and sacrifice are not mutually exclusive; there are opportunity costs to the choices we make and those are opportunities that we gave up, i.e., sacrificed even as we reap the benefit of the investment we make vis-a-vis any given choice. What I find most striking about your posts is your insistence that relationship boils down to self-interest. My spiritual self strives to be more relationship- and community- oriented than to accept that stuff is just (or even ultimately beneficial to my self to be all) about myself. Perhaps this is the conundrum.

    In any event, if I acknowledge to my partner the benefit of a bargain he/she received or vice-versa, the only response is not guilt or indebtedness. Where is the possibility for a notion of family or community where exchanges are bargained for, bartered for and people are repaid in kind for their investments? Sure, I can loan or offer to you a dollar for your dream and never be able to lean on you for a dime or get a nickel back. But I may just let you you know what that dollar I so willingly invested in you represented for me and how your behavior nourishes or fails to nourish our family.


  • DS

    October 4, 2010 at 9:11 PM

    This blog may be the best yet…you get better each week…You’re perspective gets clearer each week…keep writing and keep rising….


  • Sharon Kramper

    October 5, 2010 at 12:55 PM

    I think the word “compromise” is often thrown around when partners mean “give in.” A compromise involves two people and is a mutual agreement that builds trust between partners. Sacrifice or giving in to your partner’s wants and needs above your own builds resentment and is toxic to relationships. I blogged about this exact topic back in September. http://www.primrosepathtoys.com/


  • Manibi

    October 5, 2010 at 2:42 PM

    To JF – You asked the question about the possibility of bargaining or bartering in the family or community. That notion does exist in some communities who have clearly identified what their needs, what each community participant’s skills are, and how to best utilize each other’s skill to invest in the community, which thereby invests in the family and assists in its development. Does this notion not start at the level of the individual?? Raised in a community of this sort, the individual, I would think, must see what he or she does as an investment in themselves, family and then community.

    Have you bartered for an item you want or need? It is possible to barter even here in the US – but we are conditioned not to. And perhaps that word conditioned is the major problem. Another topic perhaps. But bartering requires knowledge of the item and a going rate. You know what you have and a range of prices for the item and so you attempt to get what you want (or need) before you “invest” in a thing that you (singular and plural) have determined will improve you, your status, or whatever it is you will use the thing that you are bartering for. The person from you are purchasing, uses the same approach. Perhaps we think this shouldn’t have to happen in a relationship. Well if it lasts long enough and if we are always attempting to build on our investment, PERHAPS you won’t – only perhaps, because while people don’t change, they change – time won’t allow us not to. But giving up and giving in just for the sake of it – which is what sacrifice seems to imply – wears a body out, verrrryyyyy quickly!!!


  • LaTricia

    October 5, 2010 at 11:28 PM

    Thamks for sharing this. It’s a very interesting pov. I do see how one’s choices really are an investment and benefit the doer. But it’s also got to be true that there are instances of genuine sacrifice. For example, unless Dr King was planning for a better future for his own kids alone then his trails and tribulations were a sacrifice. What about other people like Mother Theresa and Ghandi? They don’t have kids. How do they directly benefit their actions? I think it’s a little of both. A person doesn’t sacrifice unless they have a personal interest (my parents spent money on my education). But the object of the personal interest (me who gets to go to school) is the one who directly benefits. And the fruits of the benefit enjoyed by the beneficiary trickles down to the one making the sacrifice/investment (mom and dad can say they have a kid who is a college grad, has a good job, earns increased income and helps them out on their retirement years so they gain pride and income). All in all I can see that everyone does seem to benefit.


  • Kitty N.

    October 5, 2010 at 11:33 PM

    Hi Frank:

    This is a fascinating topic! I have noted in my practice a client who used this as a passive aggressive tool. I can see there might be a tendency in certain people to be manipulative in this manner. I would hesitate to make a blanket judgment on this, however.


  • theresa

    October 9, 2010 at 1:39 PM

    I see the sacrifice card played by parents when there teens don’t do what they say or act like the parent wants them to. “I’ve given you everything and there’s no gratitude. I never had what you have when I was a teen.” The parent has been giving more to their child then they recieved. The conclusion is that the child should be grateful and behave a certain way. This idea comes from comparing two childhoods, the parent’s and their child’s. The child has no comparison. What they have recieved is their baseline of comparison. They compare what they have recieved to what they still want. Teaching gratitude, cooperation and contribution to the family and community goes alot further than expecting change based on another’s sacrifice.


  • Susan Broadwell, MA, PsyD

    October 15, 2010 at 12:57 AM

    I appreciate your article. A topic often not readily talked about. I have learned to observe the energy of manipulation. Only when we are willing to see our unwholesomeness, and adjust, can we become whole. Then we really need less from others, and can just share our joy.


  • FrankLove

    October 21, 2010 at 12:03 PM

    Interesting….never saw sacrifice as manipulation, but now that I’ve read this, I can see how this could be a possibility. Yeah, it could be used to guilt someone into doing what you want them to do….I don’t want anyone doing what I want them to do, even if they don’t want to do it just to please me…reflecting now to recall where sacrifice came into play in my relationships….Yep, remember a few of them! Was I happy?? Nope, that’s why I’m no longer in the relationship. LOL


  • FrankLove

    October 21, 2010 at 12:05 PM

    What do you want me to say? This is interesting because it’s a different perspective on those people who may use sacrifice as a manipulator. Unfortunatley, this article doesn’t apply to me because I’ve never said I sacrificed for any woman, to any woman. And if I want something from someone, I just tell her. No biggie. Life is too short for shades of gray or plottin and planning.


  • Carl

    October 21, 2010 at 12:06 PM

    I agree with the premise of the article. People often times manipulate others through their words and it’s not always obvious when this occurs. The ‘sacrifice’ claim is definitely one of them. It’s people ‘doing things for you’ up front so they can redirect your energy in their favor at a later date when they feel like it.


  • Massander

    October 21, 2010 at 11:34 PM

    I’d love to see a post defining manipulation and what makes it so bad. It’s a common theme in your writing.


  • Jane Medcalf

    October 22, 2010 at 5:17 AM

    Tell me more! Can this be attributed to Berne’s, ‘Games People Play’?


  • […] to manipulate your mate. One of the best is to “sacrifice;” or “invest” (see Sacrifice: A Toll for Manipulation in Relationships) more than you believe your partner is investing so that he/she owes you something in the future. […]


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  • […] cry and ask yourself “why me?” Will you tell your friends how much you sacrificed (see ‘Sacrifice: A Tool for Manipulation in Relationships’) for your partner’s sake so you can accumulate sympathy and allies? Or will you thank your […]


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