Making a Sacrifice

I sat in a beach chair with my toes digging deeper, until I could feel the cool, damp sand beneath. Everywhere I looked I saw families diving through waves, playing paddle games on the sand, or having lunch under umbrellas.
I grew up in New Jersey where many families make weeklong trips to the shore a yearly tradition. My family, however, rarely went to the beach. I was confused about this fact for many years. My father grew up spending his summers in Rockaway Point, NY where his family had a summer house. He told my sister and I about idyllic days on the beach with his friends and siblings, and the many hours he spent swimming in the ocean. He was a very strong swimmer, but we only remember this from watching him in the town pool. Why was he so uninterested in the beach as an adult?
I knew it had something to do with my mother. She grew up in Manhattan and never learned how to swim, so she was petrified of the water.
I remember one trip to the beach. My sister and I played with our buckets and shovels at the water’s edge while Mom stood with her hand shielding her eyes, looking for my father in the water. I don’t remember if there were lifeguards, but my mother assumed the role with vigilance. At one point, she spotted him and cupped her hand to her mouth yelling, “Vinny! You’re too far! Come back!” while waving him in with her other hand.
When he finally walked out of the surf, she was angry. “You were too far!” she admonished. He just laughed. Eventually she got over it. But we never went back.
Memory and experience are sometimes like two puzzle pieces slipping into place that were right in front of you all along. You just never saw the potential connection, but suddenly do.
I realized our family never returned to the beach because of my parents’ holy commitment to sacrifice for each other in marriage.
Although my father loved the ocean, the experience came at too high a cost for my mother. He knew the beach was not an enjoyable outing for her.
Being married (for the second time), I understand keenly that sacrifice is a daily part of marriage. All marriages. Sometimes those sacrifices are little and easier to make. Like where to go for dinner, which movie to see or TV show to watch, or what present to buy a family member.
Other sacrifices are bigger and harder to make. Where to go on vacation, how many children to have, or whether to follow a job opportunity to a new city. Ideally there’s compromise that satisfies both partners. But even compromises involve a degree of sacrifice.
The potential for conflict in any relationship resides in that moment when there are differing agendas and preferences. It is a crossroad. How well you negotiate which direction to take can often make or break a couple, if not over a single decision, then over time if a pattern of unrequited sacrifice emerges.
So how do we know when to sacrifice for the other, and when to respectfully decline?
Before I head down this path, let me be the first to say I’ve made many mistakes over the years, by not sacrificing when I should have, and by sacrificing too much or too often, resulting in bitterness. Sometimes my “no” was born out of stubbornness or selfishness. And sometimes my “yes” came from a place of insecurity and fear.
In other words, I don’t have the answers and am stumbling along and trying to find my way. But here are some questions I ask myself that currently guide my decision making.
1. How important is the outcome to me? To my partner?
A burning desire wins out over a preference in my book so I find it easy to sacrifice if I know doing so will really mean a lot to my husband and I know he would say the same.
2. Does the sacrifice compromise my beliefs or values?
Although in marriage two become one, we also are unique and whole individuals at the same time. So, we might differ in areas such as political beliefs, or causes to which we want to devote our time, attention or resources. Partners who respect each other should not ask for sacrifices that compromise their partners’ beliefs or values.
3. Can I make the sacrifice without resentment?
If the answer to this question is yes, then by all means, sacrifice for your partner. Doing so might stretch our patience, flexibility or comfort, but also strengthens our bonds of partnership. We subconsciously say, “we’re a team and this is what teammates do for each other”.
If the answer is no, however, then there needs to be some soul searching about what’s at stake. Resentment is a signal there are unresolved feelings that need to be addressed. If I resent the request to sacrifice, then why? Am I detecting a pattern that suggests my partner is unaware of selfish behavior? If so, I need to have a discussion about my observations before making a decision. I also have to ask myself if I’m bringing a heart of unforgiveness about a prior situation to the table. If so, I need to work on my own heart before I can consider the present decision with a clean slate.
Knowing when and how much to sacrifice is not black and white, and takes a lifetime of practice, making many missteps along the way, and hopefully learning from them.
Only my parents know whether my father’s sacrifice was necessary for the sake of the marriage, or appreciated by my mother. I hope both.
What are your thoughts on sacrifice in marriage? Did I miss any crucial questions that should be asked before making a decision? Please join the conversation and share your thoughts!
Photo credit: Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

  • Tom
    August 7, 2017

    Awesome! I’m assuming you got the text I sent first. I noticed something different in this post. You did not apply Biblical references. Like Pavlov’s dog I was trained and ready for “…and God paid the ultimate sacrifice for us”. I got to go, I hear a bell it must be lunch time!

    • Jo-Ann
      August 7, 2017

      Yes I trusted that Christians would intuitively make the connection and you did! Plus I might have more to say on the topic. You know me…😊

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