A challenge of 21st century romantic life is the pursuit of relationship equality.
Life and work are demanding and while people often make daily sacrifices in the name of love, is it ever okay to miss a day of emptying the dishwasher so that you can have some time to yourself for self-care? And, when both parties have long and stressful days, what is the expectation and what is the correct plan of action?
A new study from the University of Arizona suggests that while making sacrifices in a romantic relationship is generally a positive thing, doing so on days when you are feeling especially stressed may not be beneficial.
The study, led by Casey Totenhagen, Ph.D., will be featured in an upcoming edition of the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.
Researchers followed 164 couples, married and unmarried, whose relationships ranged in length from six months to 44 years.
Each of the 328 individuals was asked to fill out daily online surveys, over the course of seven days, indicating the daily sacrifices they made for their partner in 12 categories, such as child care, household tasks and amount of time spent with friends, among others.
They also were asked to report on the number of hassles they experienced that day and how much those hassles affected them.
The participants then ranked, on a scale of one to seven, how committed they felt to their partners, how close they felt to their partners and how satisfied they felt with their relationship that day.
In the study “sacrifice” was defined as a small change in daily routine in order to do something nice for a partner and maintain the quality of the relationship.
Investigators found that individuals who made sacrifices for their significant others generally reported feeling more committed to their partners when they performed those nice behaviors.
However, when they made sacrifices on days when they had experienced a lot of hassles, they did not feel more committed.
“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,” Totenhagen said.
“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.”
Surprisingly, individuals on the receiving end of a partner’s sacrifice did not report feeling more committed to their partner — perhaps because they were unaware that their partner had done anything special for them.
Researchers say this lack of awareness is a phenomenon that deserves additional research and attention.
Ironically, when it came to feelings of relationship satisfaction and closeness, making sacrifices for one’s partner seemed to have little bearing one way or another.
However, the daily hassles reported by an individual did affect closeness and satisfaction for both partners, regardless of which one 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.
Researchers also discovered excess stress and hassle at work affected both individuals.
Those findings, Totenhagen said, support existing research suggesting people don’t typically do very well at compartmentalizing different aspects of their lives – like work and personal lives – which often results in a “spillover” effect.
“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.”
The implication, said Totenhagen, is that couples would do best to work through those daily hassles together.
“It’s really important that couples work on coping with those daily stressors as they occur, before they have a chance to build up,” she said.
“Even if I had stressful experiences that didn’t involve my partner, it can still impact my partner, so it might be beneficial for us to work on those together.”
Totenhagen’s research on romantic relationships aims to identify precipitating factors that can make a relationship good or bad.
“I want to understand what makes good relationships good and bad relationships bad, and I think that a lot of that comes in our daily interactions with our partners and how our daily lives seep into our relationships,” she said.
“I think it’s really useful, then, to try and understand not just the big things that happen in relationships but the things we can do every day to foster positivity with our partners through our everyday interactions.”
Source: University of Arizona