Relationship Compromise Linked To Commitment, Not Satisfaction, Study Finds

May 01, 2013 | Updated May 01, 2013

Next time you and your partner bicker over whose turn it is to take out the trash, you might feel tempted to give in and do it. But making this small sacrifice for him or her might not actually improve the quality of your relationship, according to a new study.

The research, conducted by Casey J. Totenhagen at the University of Arizona, explored whether making sacrifices for a romantic partner affected a person's feelings of satisfaction, closeness, and commitment in a relationship.

Totenhagen's research team asked the members of 164 married and unmarried heterosexual couples to take an online survey daily for 7 days. Participants ranged in age from 18 to 66, with an average age of 25.7, and had been in relationships lasting from two months to 44 years.

The participants answered questions about what sacrifices they had made for their partners in the past 24 hours. Sacrifices fell into 12 different categories: household tasks, schedule, child care, amount of time spent with family, amount of time spent with friends, leisure activities, partner communication, intimate activities, financial standing, living arrangements, diet and exercise and physical appearance. Participants also indicated how satisfied they were with their relationship, how close they felt to their partner, and how committed they felt to their relationship. Finally, subjects noted any hassles they had experienced that day, such as work obligations, home maintenance and finances, and how much these hassles had affected them.

The study found that individuals who made a sacrifice for their partner reported being more committed to the relationship, but didn't feel more satisfied or closer to their partner than people who didn't make these sacrifices. Furthermore, making a sacrifice after a stressful day made no difference to how someone felt about their relationship.

"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 told ScienceDaily. "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."

A 1997 study found that people are more likely to make sacrifices in their relationship when they are invested in their partner and feel strongly committed, and a study from 2006 concluded that sacrifice -- and satisfaction with a partner's sacrifices -- can affect long-term marital outcomes.

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