Sacrifice is the dirty word of marriage. Recently, a client who was frustrated with the sexuality in his marriage posed this question to me, "Gary, do you ever sacrifice?"
The question itself was revealing. No one likes the word or concept of sacrifice. It means that I'm not getting what I want. Yet in truth, it means exactly the opposite. In order to get what you want, you must sacrifice.
Do you want to be in love with your spouse, grow old together hand in hand with grandchildren giggling around you? Or do you want sex with multiple partners throughout your life? Your choice, each decision a sacrifice. So do you sacrifice the sex or the deep emotional bond with your spouse?
Sacrifice is the backbone of our souls. It indicates self-regulation for a higher purpose. Today, more than ever, we get to choose that higher purpose but once we do, our sacrifices are the pre-requisite to our success. You choose not to steal in order to live in an orderly society as well as to maintain your moral code. You choose to sacrifice sleep to nurture your children in order to create loving bonds with them and give to them. What we do without is just as important as what we have; we simply could never have that "it" without sacrifice.
What we strive for is to have the sacrifice not feel too much like "a sacrifice." It is supposed to be greatly compensated by the benefits we receive from making "the sacrifice." This aspect is where it gets tricky for so many. My client was sacrificing sexual variety yet it felt like a huge sacrifice because he believed he was suffering in his marital relationship. When we give up something, we expect big returns. When we don't get it, we get mad. Sacrifice isn't the problem, what you do next, the moment after you choose to sacrifice, is what counts.
Giving up on connecting to other women will only set the stage for a man to be connected to his wife; it won't create the connection itself. Pulling yourself out of bed when your kid needs something in and of itself doesn't mean you'll have the bond you dreamed of. Not stealing from your neighbor doesn't insure your home will never be invaded. If you want sacrifice to count, ask yourself the following, "What am I doing in a proactive way to attain my goals?"
My client has to learn to be kind and loving to his wife, as does she, if he's to enjoy the fruit of his sacrifice. He'll need to focus on loving sexuality and variety with his wife through healthy communication and commitment to ideas that work for both of them. That parent who's up in the middle of the night has to approach the child with kindness, sometimes firmness, but love nonetheless, if that child is to desire a greater loving bond with that parent. The homeowner who doesn't steal will need to purchase a house alarm or create a neighborhood watch in order to stay safe.
Times have changed perhaps. We live in a "work smarter, not harder" generation where we are trying to literally have it all. As a society we're not big on delayed gratification, which happens to be one of the hallmarks of success. We want it all and we want it now with as little effort as possible. After all, we deserve it. This attitude crashes in the face of healthy living where patience mixed with creativity leads to successful living.
We can't have it all, we're not supposed to and it doesn't even make sense. I can't have a close relationship with my spouse, or child, while indulging myself with activities that don't include the ones I love. Sure, I can blend the two as much as possible (sadly my wife doesn't like watching 78 hours of football a week -- I mean how much sacrifice can I manage), but there are mutually exclusive parts to life and each and every one of us must choose our goals knowing sacrifices must be made along the way.
Stop focusing on what you don't have and start developing what you do have. Your sacrifice is only meaningful if you use it as a springboard to positive actions that keep you on track. The more love you give, the more you'll receive. Sometimes you have to sacrifice for a long time before you get what you want (think nights and infants). But the problem is never sacrifice, it's the choices we make once the sacrifice begins.
M Gary Neuman is a New York Times best-selling author, rabbi, and creator of Neuman Method Programs. He was on the Oprah show 11 times as well as having made multiple appearances on Today, Dateline, the View, NPR and others. Oprah referred to Gary as "One of the best psychotherapists in the world." To receive discounts on Gary's Creating Your Best Marriage 11 DVD set program, go to NeumanMethod.com and use coupon code HUFFINGTON.