A relationship is a lot like running a marathon. There are highs and lows, challenges and rewards, and times when you may want to give up--when it feels too difficult to continue. What will keep you on track and moving forward when your relationship hits the inevitable rough patch? Will love be enough?
What holds it all together?
Commitment and sacrifice are the bricks and mortar in a long-term relationship. From a holistic point of view they are inseparable in the sense that commitment represent the mind and sacrifice represent the heart.
Commitment is a belief in relationship permanence and the understanding that at times your union will need a life jacket to stay afloat. It requires a strong personal integrity as well as a willingness to always rise above our fleeting thoughts, feelings, moods, and situations and to deal with any problem or conflict in a way that enhances, rather than diminishes, the quality of your relationships. Whereas sacrifice stem from the heart and is an act of deep felt love and selflessness that aim to support and enhance the dreams, desirers and happiness of your partner.
Commitments are the bricks of our relationship
When you and your partner are committed to the relationship, the union remains more important than your (and your partner's) individual needs. Without mutual commitment, deep trust will never take root and intimacy will wither. When one person's commitment is tenuous, the very nature of the relationship is weakened. A lack of commitment reduces the buffer that holds relationships together during times of conflict and stress. Imagine living with the fear that periodic slumps in your relationship can cause your partner to bail.
Commitment has a dual role in your relationship. You can view commitment as the vehicle to help deepen your love, and you can also view it as a safety net of sorts, a way to protect your marriage or relationship during the difficult periods that each and every relationship experiences. Commitment allows love and intimacy to mature over time. Someone who ends a relationship because the excitement of new love has diminished misses out on the opportunities that relationships bring for individual and mutual growth.
Commitment makes us focus when our vision is blurred
All couples (married and unmarried) face an enormous challenge: How to stay devoted to one another throughout the life of your relationship, even when early enthusiasm and euphoria naturally wane.
Some mistakenly believe that a commitment like "till death do us part" literally means locking yourself into a lifetime of potential unhappiness. No one should commit to a relationship that cannot meet their needs. Your needs (and your partner's needs) do matter and should be part of the overall commitment equation. But life and relationships are complicated, and there will be stretches of time when your partner does not meet your needs (and you will not meet your partner's needs). Commitment is what will get you through those rough stretches, enabling each of you to get back on track in meeting each other's needs once again.
One of the greatest challenges to commitment lies in the instant-gratification mind-set of the idea that you deserve to have what you want – exactly when you want it. The settings to our pleasure barometer have been altered and humans are less willing to deal with frustrating circumstances or anything that feels like it stands in the way of immediate happiness. When you make decisions about your relationship based solely on the need to feel happy (all the time), you abandon commitment and the rich opportunities that are essential for your relationship to grow.
Long-term relationships require care and work to maintain closeness. Common components found in successful relationships include: communication, respect, trust, sharing, individuality and self-care. In addition, it is helpful to approach the challenges and triumphs of life (and the relationship) as a team. Fighting fairly, supporting one another and not holding grudges all help with this goal.
Successful relationships are based on the following components:
Communication. Listen to your partner. Avoid blame and judgment. Do not make assumptions.
Don't let your emotions dictate your behaviour.
Trust and respect. A sense of trust is present when each person feels safe to be open, honest and genuine. Respect helps build this through not judging or criticizing the other's opinions, feelings and beliefs.
Team approach. When tough times hit, try to remember you're on the same team. You either both win or both lose. Support each other and work together. Relationships are not meant to be a tug of war against each other. In fact, you both should be on the same side pulling against the world.
Deal with problems as they arise. Conflict is a natural part of any relationship. Addressing differences one at a time helps avoid bad feelings spoiling a good relationship. Do not hold grudges; work through the matter and let it go.
Share responsibility and decision-making. Healthy relationships are an equal partnership. This applies to the work involved as well as the power dynamics between the couple.
Fight fair. Judging your partner undermines a relationship. Address behaviour without criticizing the person. Know where your partner's vulnerable spots are and never use these during conflicts.
Take care of yourself. It is your responsibility to know what you want and determine how to achieve that. Make any requests of your partner clear and direct. It is not okay to blame someone for your failure to assert yourself.
Sacrifice is the mortar of our relationship
Close relationships also require sacrifice. In fact, many people include sacrificing in the very definition of what it means to truly love another person and indeed, research has shown that couples are happier and more likely to remain in their relationships if the partners are willing to sacrifice for each other. Sometimes that sacrifice can be life-changing, such as deciding to move to a different Country in order to be with your partner; other times it might be something small and seemingly mundane, such as seeing an action movie instead of the comedy you would have chosen.
The difficult decision
Although sacrifice may be inevitable, when the time comes to do it, it’s not always easy. We often find ourselves weighing our need to be true to ourselves “why should I be the one giving up what I want”? against our desire to be a good partner and do what it takes to make our relationship work “if this is important to him, I should be supportive”. The following seven questions serves as an inspiration when deciding whether or not a sacrifice is worth it:
How committed are you? Is this the person you plan to spend forever with, or do you still harbor reservations? In order for a big sacrifice to be worth it, you should make sure that you are invested in the relationship and confident about your future together. Nothing is certain, of course, but a sacrifice becomes much more palatable when it helps bring you closer to the person with whom you want to spend the rest of your life.
Would your partner do the same for you? Sacrifice is two-sided: While you are deciding whether or not to move across the country to let your spouse take his promotion, your spouse must decide whether or not to sacrifice his promotion in order to let you keep your job. So as you debate whether or not to make a sacrifice, it’s important to question whether your partner has shown the same degree of commitment and is now going through the same thought process. Has your partner been willing to sacrifice for you in the past, or expressed his willingness to sacrifice in the future? In the current situation, are you working together to figure out what is best, or does your partner simply expect you to change your life to accommodate his? If your partner assumes that you are the one who must choose to sacrifice, without assuming any of the same responsibility on his end, think twice.
Does one of you want it more? When a situation requires sacrifice from you or your partner, the two of you may not be equally invested in the outcome. Perhaps your partner really wants to attend her family reunion, and although you don’t relish missing your work event, you know your co-workers will understand, and the family reunion is a one-time thing. As you navigate the situation, make sure you are both clear about your own desires and priorities.
Does your partner know it’s a sacrifice? There is no need to rub your potential sacrifice in your partner’s face, or use it against them, but if your partner isn’t aware that you consider your act to be a sacrifice, he or she won’t be able to appreciate your selflessness. In addition, by not realizing that you are incurring a cost for the sake of the relationship, your partner might not understand when you want her to return the favor the next time a sacrifice is called for. Finally, it is important to know if your partner disagrees with you and does not see your actions as a sacrifice. Has your partner expressed thanks for your willingness to sacrifice? Research suggests expressing gratitude shows recognition of a sacrifice. If you haven’t received a “thank you,” your partner may be taking you for granted.
Is there a better solution? Rather than simply trying to pick through the choices at hand, you should be working with your partner to see if there is a solution that doesn’t require much of a sacrifice from either of you. If your partner wants you to go on a tropical vacation and you really want to take in the architecture of ancient cities, perhaps a little research will uncover a place where you can do both. This isn’t always an option, of course, but even in situations in which there is no clear compromise, there may be a way to reduce the impact of the sacrifice.
Can you negotiate? Although close relationships require that you give when giving is needed, it doesn’t mean you and your partner can’t make an arrangement that suits both of you. For example, you can work it out so that you eat at the restaurant you want, and go to the movie your partner wants to see. This may even work for the bigger sacrifices. You could make the move to the new city, but agree that there will be money set aside in a travel budget so that you can fly home to visit your family some number of times a year.
What’s your motivation? In many respects, this is the most important question you need to ask yourself. Research shows that people engage in sacrifice for many different reasons, and not all of them lead to happily ever after. Are you moving cross-country to make your partner happy and keep your relationship going—or are you simply trying to avoid conflict?
Sacrifices motivated by avoidance can undermine happiness and satisfaction in a relationship. If you sacrifice to avoid conflict, you often end up feeling less satisfied with the relationship. Alternatively when you sacrifice to make your partner happy and help fulfill his dream it tends to lead to happier and more satisfying relationships.
Although sacrificing to make a partner happy can be a good thing, it may be trouble if you find yourself constantly sacrificing out of a desire to be the “good” partner and satisfy your partner at the cost of your own happiness. People who consistently prioritize other’s needs above their own can pay a cost in self-esteem and mental health over the long run.
Sacrifice is a hallmark of a close relationship, but it should not lead to neglecting your own needs. In close relationships, people typically hold mutual expectations, they believe their partner will help them when they need it and sacrifice without expecting to be paid back in kind. Any long-term commitment requires sacrifice, but we shouldn’t give in without thinking it through. It is important to consider the pros and cons, have clear communication with your partner, ask the tough questions, and make sure you are sacrificing for the right reasons. The right kind of sacrifice can bring people together, but sacrificing for the wrong reasons may be worse than no sacrifice at all.