Resentment seethes silently in relationships, slowly destroying intimacy and trust and finally, love.

Are you noticing a dwindling affinity in your professional and community partnerships? Has the love drained right out of your romantic relationship? Do you feel less connected than you used to? Do you “know” that you love each other, but you just don’t “feel” it in quite the same way any more? Or, are you afraid of involvement because you fear “losing yourself” in a relationship? Do you often feel resentful of family members or friends?

If you answered yes to any of the above questions, you may have a the emotional equivalent of a “cancer” in your relationships – the cancer of resentment. Resentment seethes silently in relationships, slowly destroying intimacy and trust and finally, love. You hardly notice as it quietly eats away at the vitality of your relationships, partly because it is so subtle in the beginning. Yet behind the veil of your conscious mind it mushrooms out of control, fed by unconscious habits.

And what is the typical source of this resentment? In a word, sacrifice. That’s right, sacrifice. It is a law of relationships that sacrifice leads to resentment and guilt in your relationships. The tendency of sacrifice is giving to get, which is always a breeding ground for resentment and guilt.

What do we mean by sacrifice? Our definition of sacrifice is simply doing something for someone else that you don’t really want to do. Sacrifice is motivated out of the fear of what will happen if you don’t give. You see, your guilty thoughts make you think that you should sacrifice for the well being of others. Sacrifice is based upon the idea that you are supposed to love others more than you love yourself. So, people confuse love with sacrifice. And, if your parents (or whoever raised you) taught you that sacrifice is love (as our culture certainly teaches all of us) you will get upset or feel unloved if others won’t sacrifice for you.

There is a wheel of sacrifice that crushes everyone who gets on it. It goes like this:

  1. When you sacrifice (do something you don’t really want to do for fear of what will happen if you don’t) you have
  2. An unspoken expectation (e.g., that they will sacrifice for you later or regard you in a particular way or love you more) that creates hidden agendas, but, you get
  3. Disappointed because they fail to fulfill their end of the bargain (e.g., love you the way you want them to or do what you want them to) so, you become
  4. Resentful, perhaps angry (after all I’ve done for you!) which leads inevitably to
  5. Guilt (because resentment is an attack on the other and attack always boomerangs on us at some level) so, the best way to atone for your guilt is to
  6. Sacrifice some more to prove what a good and loving person you really are. And ’round and ’round you go on the wheel of sacrifice.

How do you get off this vicious circle? Three ways:

  1. Use forgiveness to heal your guilty thoughts and feelings (the root of your impulse to sacrifice.)
  2. Stop sacrificing, create a new understanding in your relationships that sacrifice is toxic and agree not to do it anymore or expect others to do it for you which means you have the freedom to say no without losing love.
  3. Make clear requests and have your expectations be explicit.

Now, clearly there is a fine line between sacrifice and service. Real service, or giving, has no strings attached and expects nothing in return later. The reward is in the experience of the giving itself.

Sacrifice can be a difficult pattern to break because our entire culture is geared toward sacrificial love. Just reading about this idea may make you very uncomfortable because it goes to the very heart of the Judeao-Christian ethic, as we have learned it. But, when you look at it closely and dispassionately it is easy to see that sacrifice is not love at all, but in fact diminishes the experience of real, authentic love over time in a relationship.

Can you imagine what your relationships might be like if no one sacrificed, but only did what they wanted to do? It might be hard to imagine if that is all you have ever known. Think of it like this – the people you love and who love you would be in your life because they really chose to be there, not because they felt obligated to be there. Obligation is sacrifices twin sister. Obligation makes us think we need each other (in psychologically unhealthy ways) rather than choosing freely to relate with each other.

When we first created our relationship we were aware of this pattern and made some choices and agreements to help us overcome it, because we knew that if we perpetuated sacrifice and obligation in our relationship, it would kill our love with resentment. Our own relationship would succumb to the cultural cancer of resentment. So, we agreed to always tell each other the truth and that we would only do in our relationship what we really wanted to do. We also agreed not to get angry and withhold our love if one of us said no to the other. And it was not always easy, but we were very diligent, which is one of the reasons we are still together today. We really choose to be together and our love is very much alive.

The idea we are presenting here is a big idea. It is huge. It goes against our cultural upbringing that says you know someone loves you to the degree that they are willing to do things for you that they don’t really want to do. And if they decline to do them, it means they don’t love you. This has probably been used by all of us at one time or another as emotional blackmail. You know, “If your really loved me, you would . . .”

Sacrifice masquerades as a virtue in our culture. Because of how deeply this is ingrained, you may experience enormous resistance to getting this. And you may not. Even if you don’t, it is important to be aware that many people do.

In our next installment, we will talk about some solutions if you find yourself sacrificing and resentful in your relationships. We will also offer some alternative ways to “be” in your relationships to help you create relationships free from sacrifice and resentment, so your relationships can be “sacrifice free zones”! That way you learn the fine art of being true to yourself and the partnerships you create.

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