Being the best partner — 15 February 2010
Sacrifice for love, but do not abandon yourself

A loving relationship requires couples to employ consideration, accommodation and compromise. Sometimes, to please their mate, partners choose to extend themselves beyond their personal levels of convenience or comfort. However, when these accommodations involve abandoning one’s independence, autonomy, safety or wellbeing, it can become injurious to the individual and the union.

As couples marry later today, their individual career paths may have already been set prior to even meeting their intended. They may have already established a life plan for themselves and are often independent, self-sufficient and healthily competent in running their lives. Blending two careers, living spaces, routines, friends and family may become challenging enough to cause a mate to abandon him/herself for the sake of harmony and love.

The difference between sacrifice and self-abandonment for love can be measured by the short-term and long-term personal cost to the individual.

An example of sacrifice for love is of a physician who accepted a less desirable residency program to be closer to her spouse during their training. It afforded her partner to accept an excellent program in his specialty and enabled them to work and live in greater proximity for a three-year duration. They agreed to only accept permanent positions that were open to both of them.

A female attorney demonstrated her sacrifice for love by consenting to study and take the licensing exams in four different states, as her husband was transferred to a new location every year.

A self abandoning career example is of a highly paid professional who gave up his cherished career, sold his home and moved to another state to live with his new love. That relocation also separated him from his two children. As his job prospects dwindled and his relationship with his children weakened, he felt trapped and lost, became depressed and his new relationship suffered.

Love is a powerful emotion that can reward and/or derail us. The philosopher Sophocles said: “One word frees us of all the weight and pain of life; that word is love.” The poet, Maya Angelou said, “If we lose love and self respect for each other, this is how we finally die.”

How do we lavish in the relief that love brings and preserve our own self – respect in the process? The answer is: we give wholeheartedly and unconditionally to our beloved as we keep tabs on loving ourselves as well.

Loving another does not require self-annihilation, self-abandonment or self-denial. To the contrary, it includes the reciprocal preservation of each other’s needs and wants. When your personal quest for autonomy, accomplishments, contributions and satisfaction are hindered, your esteem plummets, your sense of personal lovability decreases and your capacity for love is damaged. When you abandon yourself- you are lost and distanced from your beloved.

• Love your mate by honoring his/her wants and needs first – but not to the exclusion of your own wishes.
• Accept that self-abandonment – leaves your mate un-partnered.
• Negotiate by stating: “ I want to be with you. How do we also address my need for self-sufficiency, a great job and proximity to my children?”
• Avoid suppressing your concerns. Discuss them with your partner. “I would be happy to have your children move in with us. How do we define my role and how do we preserve our couple time and autonomy?
• Remember that selflessly giving in to your lover’s needs is unfair to both of you and likely to damage your relationship in the long run.
• Visualize your reactions to a future situation should it not turn out well. Discuss the “What if” scenarios and your future options in case your or your mate’s emotions change.
• Agree only to options that you can visualize being free of future resentment for you.
• Acknowledge that true love may require voluntary negotiated sacrifices, but never requires either partner’s self- abandonment.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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