Sacrifices, Stress, And Relationships
May 1, 2013

Sometimes Making Sacrifices For Your Partner Is Not The Best Idea

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

After a long day at school or work, picking up some extra chores at home can feel like one more thankless duty, according to new research from the University of Arizona.

The study, which will be published in an upcoming edition of the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, looked at how making daily sacrifices on either a stressful or non-stressful day impacts a romantic relationship.

The UA researchers found that individuals who did favors for their significant others usually reported feeling more devoted to their partners when they “paid it forward.” However, when those small sacrifices were done on days when they had been more hassled, they did not report higher commitment levels.

"On days when people were really stressed, when they were really hassled, those sacrifices weren't really beneficial anymore, because it was just one more thing on the plate at that point," said lead researcher Casey Totenhagen, a research scientist at the university. "If you've already had a really stressful day, and then you come home and you're sacrificing for your partner, it's just one more thing."

"You need to be mindful of the resources that you have to do those sacrifices at the end of the day," she added. "Maybe trying to pile on more sacrifices at the end of a really stressful day isn't the best time."

The study included more than 160 married and unmarried couples who had been together between six months and 44 years. Each member of the couple was asked to fill out daily online surveys on the sacrifices that they had made for their partner; ranging from child care duties to household tasks to the amount of time spent with friends. The individual participants were also asked to report on the number of “hassles” they experienced that day and how these inconveniences affected them.

The participants were also asked to rank how committed, how close, and how satisfied they felt with their relationship partners each day on a scale of one to seven.

In addition to finding that stressful days led to less rewarding sacrifices, the team also found that participants on the receiving end of a sacrifice did not report feeling more committed to their partner on that particular day.

The team also found that feelings of closeness or relationship satisfaction were affected by the number of reported daily hassles, regardless of which person experienced those hassles.

"We found that sacrifices did not significantly predict satisfaction and closeness, but we found that hassles played a pretty big role for those two outcomes," Totenhagen said. "And it didn't matter which partner was having the hassling day; it likely affected both individuals."

The UA research noted that these findings support the “spillover” theory that asserts people don't effectively compartmentalize different aspects of their life.

"If I have a terrible day at work, I'm going to come home feeling grumpy, and probably my quality of interaction with my partner won't be as great," she said. "And if my partner has a stressful day, they're probably coming home feeling grumpy and they won´t have the energy to have positive interactions, so I still suffer from my partner's stressful day."