Self-forfeit starts and ends in loss – Self-sacrifice starts and ends in connection. One burns out, the other burns with passion from within.
As a Couples Therapist, I have seen couples present to their first session, after years of avoidance, hoping to disinter a spark of hope for their relationship. The strongest emotions shared between the two, is that of bewilderment and self-protective defensiveness. This is drawn out of a mutual woundedness, that renders each powerless in their own minds. Many aspects of their life may be good, and indeed growing and thriving.
However, as they approach their relationship, it is as if they stand facing a smoldering burnt forest. Their first step towards the other, on the charred remains of past attempts of connection, crackles and puffs with plums of ash beneath their feet. Rather than face the burnt forest in front of them, they turn inwards, fortify their self, close their eyes, plug their nose or their ears, and just push through. Going through the motions.
If these couples maintain functional relationship status (i.e. doing tasks, chores, attending to children or others, etc), they are able to tolerate walking around the rim of the burnt remnants. However, we know that mere perfunctory mechanization makes poor fodder for nurturing intimate human relationships. The healing process with this is slow, painstaking, and requires individual work as well as work as a couple. No mere blog post will begin to scratch the surface of this process. The matter at hand, today, is prevention of burn-out in relationships.
The first step in managing burn-out is salving the burns as they come, and not allowing the entire forest to burn down, one fire at a time, and fixing your eyes and your heart to the good that you want to see in your relationship. It starts with yourself, not the other. (This is not a commentary about instances of abuse or neglect. Those are separate instances that need to be handled with qualified professionals and support.)
One of the biggest misconception that disrupts fixing one’s eyes and heart to the good that they want to make manifest in their relationship is the confusion between Give-and-Take vs. Offer-and-Receive – a concept that I will continue to develop more over time. This is also the difference between self-sacrifice, and self-forfeit. Self-forfeit starts and ends in loss – Self-sacrifice starts and ends in gain. One burns out; the other burns with passion from within. One sets up disconnection; the other sets up acceptance and connection.
A forfeiture is a loss of possession, a loss of rights,
or a penalty, a possession being taken away.
A sacrifice is an offering of a possession to something
higher than the individual.
A forfeiture of self, at service of maintaining relationship, or going through the motions to keep the peace, is a loss of possession of self in relationship. A relationship at the service of a forfeiture is constantly fighting to regain what was previously lost. Any positive growth, in this type of relationship, starts at a negative (a loss), and fights to balance back to baseline, and is a constant balance of losing and retaking self. Self-forfeiture, by definition, is a position of inequity in relationship, leading to burn-out. Then we wonder why we feel unfulfilled and lost within the relationship.
I cannot offer, what I do not possess. I cannot offer what has been taken away. Self-sacrifice, then, is something that is offered, that is known, that is self-possessed, and that is freely given to something higher than myself. From offering, I start with what I do have, from what I do possess, what can be connected and participated with. Self-sacrifice in relationship is an offering that is joined.
I reject the sentiment of “give-and-take.” To give away, is to lose possession to another. To take away is to remove possession from another. Loosing possession is not a joint effort, it is a transaction of possession. I choose to align with “offer-and-receive.” I do not take away from you, what is you. You do not take away from me, what is me. Rather, I offer myself, as I am, good, bad or indifferent. I receive you as you are, good, bad or indifferent. We choose to relate together, in a mutual interdependent effort in connection. Only then will our hearts be kindled with passion, connection, and move together towards love.
The Old Testament talks about sacrifice as “burnt offerings.” This is one of the sources of the idea of self-sacrifice in relationship. The Hebrews offered the unblemished lamb for sacrifice to God. The Bible says they offered their lamb. It does not say that they went to the next tribe, stole their lamb, and offered that up. They possessed what they offered. It doesn’t say that they offered all of their livestock, lest they die of starvation or have no monetary well-being. They were are aware of what they offered. From that offering, they received blessings and connection with God. Later, the New Testament (Matthew 9:13), shows that compassion, or mercy, is required over burnt offerings. Compassion and mercy are not things that are given or taken, they are offered. This further points to the fact that self-sacrifice and self-forfeit are not the same.
Self-forfeit, or Give-and-Take, lead to burn-out. The loss of self leads to being taken. This will only lead to resentment. Resentment scorches the earth between us, and creates a barrier for connection and intimacy. Forfeit has no rights, no boundaries, no sense of self, is mere duty and obligation.
Self-sacrifice, or Offer-and-Receive, leads to union, connection, and fire within our hearts. More than the charred remains of something I once possessed; self-sacrifice leads to a full rich experience of ourselves and each other. Offering has free choice, respected boundaries of self and other, and is a measure of love, affection, and mutual admiration.
What meets our feet, as they stretch towards the ground between us, will either crackle and puff into nothing, or spring forward on the verdant ground of connection.
The choice, then, is yours.