Making sacrifices for your partner on stressful days can harm your relationship, study claims

Shereen Dindar
Shine On
May 1, 2013

How often do you make little sacrifices for your partner on a daily basis? Once, twice...five times a day?

For the most part, these small changes in your daily routine likely keep your partner happy and maybe even keep you together.

But now researchers from the University of Arizona find that on stressful days it might be wise to pass on making those sacrifices.

The study, to be published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, suggests that people who make sacrifices for their significant others on days when they have experienced a lot of hassles do not report feeling more committed to their partner.

Whereas on days with less hassles they do report feeling more committed.

"On days when people were really stressed, sacrifices weren't beneficial anymore, because it was just one more thing on their plate at that point," says researcher and family studies professor Casey Totenhagen.

Participants in the study included 164 couples, married and unmarried, whose relationships ranged in length from six months to 44 years. Sacrifices included things like child care, household tasks and the amount of time spent with friends.

It's worth noting that the researchers also measured how close participants felt to their partners and how satisfied they felt with their relationship that day.

As it turns out, the sacrifices they made on stressful and non-stressful days had no impact on how close they felt or how satisfied they were.

Phew, that's a relief. Because if your relationship satisfaction is so strongly affected by whether you picked up your partner's dry cleaning for them on your way home, you might have bigger fish to fry.

Yet the findings of this study begs the question, why don't people feel more committed to their relationship when they are stressed despite having made sacrifices?

If you forgo watching your favourite tennis match or eating at your favourite restaurant with friends because your partner asks you to pick up groceries on a day when it was their turn, it would stand to reason that you would notice what a great person you are and how committed you are to your partner's needs.

Yet somehow, the presence of stress eliminates this feeling. The researchers offer no explanation for this, but here's one for good measure.

Perhaps the stress hormone cortisol, which some studies suggest alters our perception of time, also in some way renders us unable to focus on things outside the tasks that are overwhelming our day. In this case, our brains don't have room for the positive feelings of being committed to our partner.

This is just a guess, of course. But one the researchers would have been wise to have examined.

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