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