How Sacrifice Impacts the Giver and the Recipient: Insights From Approach-Avoidance Motivational Theory

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Abstract

This study investigated how sacrificing for approach versus avoidance goals shapes the giver's and the recipient's emotions and relationship quality. A sample of 80 dating couples participated in a three-part study in which they discussed sacrifice in the laboratory (Part 1), reported on their daily sacrifices for 14 days (Part 2), and completed a follow-up survey 3 months later (Part 3). When partners discussed a sacrifice they had made for approach goals, they experienced greater relationship quality, whereas when they discussed a sacrifice they had made for avoidance goals, they experienced poorer relationship quality. These effects were replicated with outside observer reports. On days when partners sacrificed for approach goals, both partners experienced increased relationship quality, but on days when people sacrificed for avoidance goals, the giver experienced decreased relationship quality. These effects were mediated by positive and negative emotions, respectively. Approach sacrifice goals predicted increases in relationship quality and avoidance sacrifice goals predicted decreases in relationship quality, as reported by both partners 3 months later. Sacrifice per se does not help or harm relationships, but the goals that people pursue when they give up their own interests can critically shape the quality of intimate bonds.

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