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Too much self-sacrifice breeds resentment

Updated: May 29, 2014 4:32PM

What would you do if your partner decided he wanted to be star? Would you make the big move to Hollywood and support his dreams every step of the way? Or, would you voice some reservations and question your own starring role in his life?

Recently I encountered a couple with such a situation. Jeff and Pam were happily married for years, but that all changed when Jeff, a talented actor, wanted to move to Los Angeles to pursue his acting dreams. Pam begrudgingly left behind her job, her friends, her family and all of her roots to follow him to L.A. But that’s not all. Jeff’s ailing father also came along and moved in with them, meaning that Pam spent most of her days in 24/7 caretaking mode in a strange city while Jeff worked hard to make his dreams come true.

Clearly, their situation was not ideal, but as many struggling actors know, a few years of hardship and hard work can sometimes pay off dividends in the future. Not to mention, both Jeff and Pam believed his talent and his passion, and that made their sacrifices that much simpler.

However, their relationship soon hit major pitfalls. Pam’s constant sacrifices soon began to present as simmering resentment and bitterness. Meanwhile Jeff couldn’t understand where her anger was coming from; after all, she never said she was unhappy in L.A. or that she was exhausted from her caretaking.

Many couples encounter this same problem. While most of us don’t have partners who want to make it big on the silver screen, many people (especially women) tend to put their own needs and desires on hold to serve their partner. It sounds romantic, but it’s important to make sure that your self-sacrifice isn’t actually going to harm your bond later down the road.

We all make sacrifices for our partners (think a woman who clips coupons and dyes her own hair so there is extra money for her partner to go to night school or a man who sells his beloved classic car so that his family can have a new minivan), but there have to be boundaries in which we make sure our own needs aren’t being trampled on.

In the case of Pam and Jeff, Pam was an admitted people-pleaser who hated to put any focus on herself, but by being so giving and self-effacing, she accidentally became a martyr. And like many people who do so, she became resentful, bitter, and critical, unable to enjoy her life and unwilling to focus on her own needs.

Meanwhile poor Jeff had no idea what was going on. Such is the case with so many men and women. We want our partners to be aware of our emotional needs and to take care of us when we are sad or hurt, but many times we expect them to be mind-readers and instinctively know what we need. This simply isn’t realistic. So many arguments and hurt feelings could be avoided if couples would simply express their needs calmly and kindly in the moment, rather than allowing issues to fester while their partner has no idea what is going on. A relationship has to be built on an equal give-and-take, and that’s why it’s important to make “me” time and focus on your own needs.

To find out if Jeff and Pam were able the odds, check out their full story along with other episodes of my new YouTube show Couples in Crisis with Dr. Laura Berman at <>

Dr. Berman is the star of “In The Bedroom with Dr. Laura Berman” on OWN and the host of “Couples in Crisis” on the Everyday Health Channel. She also is director of

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