Whenever someone jams on the brakes in traffic, my husband instinctively reaches across my body, shielding me from any possible harm. I swear, he would jump into a raging fire for me or our girls…sacrificing himself. It’s pure love and entirely selfless. I like knowing that my partner would do that for me as I would for him. Being selfless and sacrificing is part of any relationship – and if it’s not, there are certainly going to be issues. This is an extreme example, but smaller transactions of sacrifice happen every day in the real life circumstances of any relationship, and they matter just as much.
It’s no secret that in the twenty-five years of our relationship there have been many occasions when one or both of us needed to sacrifice. I can name a thousand small ways we sacrifice for one another daily, too — like letting him sleep in when I know he needs it while I make Saturday breakfast. His thinking of me in his busy day and running to Costco so I don’t have to. My helping the kids with their homework when I know it’s been a frustrating day already for him. The times when he takes the kids out of the house for a “Daddy Day” so I can have some much needed quiet time or time to work on a project. My agreeing to listen to country music (which is starting to grow on me) on a road trip. His jumping in and handling a recurring issue that he knows makes me nuts — to spare me. This is what it means to sacrifice. It happens every single day (as it should) in a healthy relationship. It’s about being a team and handing off the baton when needed. A good relationship means having someone there to lean on when needed; making life a little kinder, easier, and more beautiful. It’s about being thoughtful, caring, loving and giving.
In all relationships there is a give and a take – times when you give up what you want for your partner. It is, in fact, a delicate balance – one that each partner is responsible for keeping in check. There are times when one person in a relationship needs something and you weigh it out, decide what is most important, and how you can meet the need. Human beings are driven by their own needs as a rule, so rising out of oneself is an act of love in itself. Putting your partner’s needs before your own is a selfless act and, in fact, one of the best illustrations of true love.
My parents were married for thirty-eight years, but as they approached that forty-year mark, my father unfortunately suffered what would turn out to be a fatal stroke – preceded by six grueling and painful months of suffering in intensive care, surgeries and rehab. He was conscious, but unable to speak or move his extremities – much like a prisoner in his own body. All the while, I watched as my mother sat vigil. She was a constant presence by his side, driving the distance from their suburban home into the city hospital as much as humanly possible so she could oversee his care and sit bedside.
One day, I recall, I took a break, leaving my mother in the hospital room alone with my dad and returned to the ICU wing after going downstairs to grab a coffee and calling to check on our young kids at home. As I rounded the corner to my father’s room I paused outside the door, watching, as my mom walked around my dad’s bed, carefully tucking his sheets, adjusting his pillow, lovingly wiping the perspiration from his fever, touching his face. Tears involuntarily came to my eyes. I was watching love. I was witnessing sacrifice. She had not slept, she barely ate, and she existed for him and only him — for what he needed. It was so beautiful and so very sad all at once. I plugged back into my body, swallowed my tears, literally shook it off, and re-entered the hospital room, resuming my role as her daughter and her point of strength — or whatever she needed from me through her heroic ordeal. I was simultaneously watching and living sacrifice. Love just does that.
Sacrifice isn’t easy or automatic. It’s a decision. And it’s healthy to take inventory of where you are with sacrifice in your relationship. If one person or the other is sacrificing too much, it will be detrimental to the relationship. Be aware, be proactive, and keep this at the forefront of your mind. Ask your partner how they are feeling about it in the context of your relationship. Sometimes, you may be surprised how unbalanced the scales are and you or your partner may need to pay closer attention to your role or your partner’s role in keeping the scales more balanced.
At the end of the day, know that it’s your job to be there for your partner in their moment of need, and sometimes it requires you give something up that you need or want. Sometimes it’s something big, and sometimes it’s something small. In the words of Elton John “It’s no sacrifice, no sacrifice at all". And it really isn’t. Not if you really love someone.