3 Toxic Signs of Sacrificial Love: Why it Doesn’t Work and How to Detach

This topic has been coming up a lot for me these past few weeks. Friends who are struggling to keep their relationships afloat, or trying to bring old ones back to life. Strangers who have told me their stories of emotional exhaustion — they say, I feel like I have nothing left to give. And most notably, the one thing they all have in common: this idea that the more they give, the harder they try, the more romantic and noble they are in their pursuit of happy, true love.

Because sacrificial love is often romanticized, isn’t it?

It’s a sign that you’re in it, and that you’re willing to do whatever it takes to make it work. That you want it. You want it so deeply that you’ve convinced yourself it’s worth giving up your happiness, your well-being, your sanity, or hell, the opportunity for something better.

You are the hero, the embodied love song, putting yourself up in hopes of getting some sort of reciprocation in return.

But to what end?

Why is this SUCH a common perception of how love should be? The poetry in the struggle. In the nights spent crying and fighting, only to be justified by the idea that you’re meant to be together and that this is it — THIS is your story.

That you’re too old to start over, or there are kids involved, or who would want you now, after you’ve invested so much?

But here’s the thing: it’s not supposed to be like that.

There will be times one partner will need more support than the other. That is a partnership. When that person is receiving, the other is giving. But at some point, the roles change. And what happens is this healthy flow of energy back and forth, mutually serving, strengthening one another with love and nourishment.

Because love shouldn’t drain us, it should nurture us. And these feelings you’re having aren’t rooted in some weird reality that this is your soulmate and this is your destiny; they are rooted in fear.

Fear that you won’t meet someone new.

Fear you’ll be alone.

Fear that no one else will want you. Fear of rejection.

Fear of failure.

So instead, we stay. We stay and we keep giving, and we don’t stop; we pull from within, deeper and deeper, using self-worth as currency, praying that one day we’ll cash in.

But it doesn’t work because eventually, you’ll run out. You’ll run out of hope, you’ll run out of strength, and you’ll run out of willingness to explore. You’ll run of confidence in who you are and what you’re worth and capable of giving. You’ll run out of the magic that truly makes love worth experiencing.

Because admit it: it IS draining you.

Is the effort is one sided?

The longer you’re with someone, the more you realize how important it is for both partners to show up. So, if you’re going through a dark phase and your partner isn’t meeting you half way and you’re communicating your needs — you’re the one who’s gone all in, but takes both for it to survive.

Is there an imbalance of sacrifice?

When one partner is always the one making the sacrifices, shit is bound to spiral down. If you’re giving it all up and your partner is getting his cake and eating it too, that breeds resentment. And that breeds starvation. And it breeds need. You increasingly become more reliant on that person — and on your relationship — and you fall into a downward spiral of sacrifice in order to hang on to all that you know.

Do you keep trying, but the return is not matching the investment?

Fucking exhausting, isn’t it? When you hold on to a relationship for the sake of (fill in the blank) and you’re left wondering what you have left to keep fighting for. You give and you give, maybe even both of you are giving and giving, and yet nothing is changing. The spark’s not coming back. You’re fighting just as often, if not more, than you were before. You’ve done everything in your power to make it work, and in turn, have exhausted all your resources.

Sometimes enough is enough

Sometimes we break. We don’t have the strength to wake up and realize it’s time to jump ship; sometimes, that decision is made for us. We get depressed, we get angry, and we turn into resentful, vindictive versions of ourselves we never knew existed. Sometimes, it’s too late before we realize we’ve been drained to the point of no return.

But sometimes, if we try really hard and get lucky in a moment of clarity, we can clear the smoke and see the relationship for what it is. We can see how it’s killing us. We can see it chipping away at our core. We can feel the confidence, and self-esteem, and self-love slip through our fingers.

We can be present.

And we can do something about it.

First, have the conversation. Because I get it, it’s not always easy to walk away, and the more embedded someone is into your life, the harder it is to just get up and call it quits. I get that there is a dance that needs to be had before one can be free of being called selfish.

So first, have the conversation. Be transparent with your partner and tell them how you’re feeling. Instead of sacrificing yourself as currency, use your words. Tell them what you want. Tell them the kind of relationship you’re envisioning. Describe the train and give them the opportunity to hop on and meet you half way.

But if that doesn’t work, you have to be ready to walk away. You have to look into your fears and be willing to put yourself first.

You have to know that you’re amazing and that you’re worthy of real, true love and that it exists. That it’s out there. The kind that is mutually serving. The kind where you’re able to grow together.

A partnership. A real, “We’re in this shit together and sometimes I’ll need you and others, you’ll need me, and that’s what we do.”

That’s real. That’s the kind of sacrifice worth making. If what you’re experiencing is anything less than that, you need to fucking stand up and walk away from it so you can walk toward a life that will feed you and make your beautiful heart happy.

I promise you, with every fiber of my being: A life like that exists. You just have to have the courage to walk toward it.



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