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Too much self-sacrifice hurts relationships

(MCT) — Do you realize that over-giving can hurt your relationships with family and friends?

Doing too much for others can certainly wear you down. But, it can also weaken the bonding process between two people.

The give-and-take between two people creates mutual respect. It strengthens the relationship.

"I counsel men and women who are chronic people pleasers," says a psychologist friend of ours we'll call Dave.

"I coach these folks in how to speak up for their needs," says Dave. "They have to learn that a spouse must be required to give. A child must be required to give. A friend must be required to give."

Asking someone to help you run errands, clean the house, plan a party or scratch your back is a huge stretch for some people.

"Asking is crucial," says Dave. "It tells the other person you have mutual dependency. It tells them you have a bond."

Women, especially, have trouble asking for their needs to be met. Tradition has taught women to give much in relationships and expect little in return.

Consider a woman we'll call Sandy. Sandy has been dating a man for seven years. Sandy cleans his house, watches his children on weekends, and pays some of his bills.

"This man," says Sandy, "is leaving me."

Sandy's man has fallen for a woman at his church, it turns out.

Sandy gave too much for too long in the relationship.

For starters, Sandy did not create a true bond with the man she was dating. She gave so much of herself, she caused serious gaps in the bonding process.

Bonding for a male and female requires that each that each grows to rely on the other. This means emotional and physical reliance. By not setting standards for her own treatment, Sandy cheated her man of ways to bond with her.

A couple we know, whom we'll call Connie and Jim, still argue after 12 years of marriage like young teenagers. Both of them stay totally frustrated. Connie is a champion over-giver in the relationship.

We advised Connie and Jim to do the following:

Ask three things of each other daily. These should be small five-minute chores or errands. Doing for each other builds an understanding of each other's needs.

Build friendships with three couples. Jim's relatives visit Connie and Jack every single day. Instead, they need to bond with couples not related to them. Relatives coming over too much can wreck a marriage.

Discuss personal weaknesses. Jim is a perfectionist, so Connie is crippled in stating her anxieties or needs to Jim. Perfectionism is a form of abuse. Connie and Jim can't bond if they don't share personal vulnerabilities.

Another example of giving too much involves a man we'll call Greg. Greg divorced his children's mother five years ago.

"When my children visit, I try to make up for lost time," says Greg. "I really spoil them. We see four movies in one weekend, and I let them buy tons of stuff."

We advised Greg to stop giving so much. His children need unstructured time to just hang out with him. This can't happen if they see four movies in two days.

The kids also need to do chores at Greg's house. They need to know Greg depends on them for real input into his life. Greg is playing more of a Santa Claus role with his kids.

Children who have real roles to play in their families feel needed. While everyone wants to feel loved, we all bond with others who truly need us in their lives.

Judi Hopson and Emma Hopson are authors of a stress management book for paramedics, firefighters and police, "Burnout To Balance: EMS Stress." Ted Hagen is a family psychologist.