Men and women offering to take on a chore normally done by the other may make them seem like the perfect partner. Yet when these sacrifices are done by a partner who is feeling stressed or in a bad mood, it can make the stress worse, the study found.
This in turn can lead to an increase in arguments and partners feeling taken for granted.
Research scientist Casey Totenhagen and her team at the university carried out daily surveys among 154 married and unmarried couples. The length of relationship ranged from six months to 44 years.
The couples recorded all their activities from time spent with friends, to child care and chores.
They were then asked to record which activities they considered to be ‘sacrifices’.
Sacrifices included those they had done that were usually done by their partner.
Alongside this, everyone filled in details of how well their day had been, the hassles they had experienced and how it had affected their mood.
And finally, a section was reserved for them to rank their feelings towards their partners on a daily basis, including how close, committed and satisfied they felt about the relationship.
The kind of sacrifices made were small and not significant in terms of how it could change a relationship but generally carried out to show ‘niceness’, said the researchers.
Carrying out such good deeds while in a good mood made the person doing it feel more committed to their relationship.
However, it appears to have little effect on the other partner who, in general, felt no different about the relationship after the nice act than they did before.
This may be because they were unaware that their partner was making a ‘sacrifice’ simply by taking the washing off the line or emptying the dishwasher, for instance.
Alternatively, if the person making the ‘sacrifice’ felt stressed when they take on the extra task, then they feel no better about the relationship afterwards.
Totenhagen said ‘On days when people were really stressed those sacrifices weren’t really beneficial anymore, because it was just one more thing on the plate at that point.
‘If you’ve already had a really stressful day, and then you come home and you’re sacrificing for your partner, it’s just one more thing.
But the answer may be quite simple, particular for relationships where both partners work hard and suffer stress. Do more together.
She said: ‘If I have a terrible day at work, I’m going to come home feeling grumpy, and probably my quality of interaction with my partner won’t be as great.
‘And if my partner has a stressful day, they’re probably coming home feeling grumpy and they won’t have the energy to have positive interactions, so I still suffer from my partner’s stressful day.
‘It’s really important that couples work on coping with those daily stresses as they occur, before they have a chance to build up.’
They may appear to be small things but it is small things that can make ‘good relationships good, and bad relationships bad’ said Ms Totenhagen.