Pastor Kevin Sanders

"He must increase, but I must decrease." -John 3:30

The Romantic Martyr Syndrome

As a dog returns to its vomit,
so a fool repeats his foolishness.

-Proverbs 26:11

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
-Albert Einstein

I’m going to describe a couple of scenarios and see if it sounds like someone you know (I’m just making up the name/situation, although I bet they will sound familiar):

Maria has been in a relationship for a year. Unfortunately, her boyfriend is bad news. Her friends and parents warned her not to get involved with him. He has cheated on her more than once and treats her terribly. Sometimes she complains about how she is treated. Her friends have encouraged her to break up with him, but she refuses. “I am willing to endure this for the sake of love. True love means not giving up on someone so easily,” she always says.

John is always there for his “special friend.” He always texts her and talks to her on the phone. He has been a shoulder for her to cry on when she has relationship problems. John wants more than friendship and he has told her this more than once. She declined, saying that she only thinks of him as a friend/brother. Despite what she has told him, he still continues to hope that she will fall in love with him. He continues to invest much of his time and energy into this relationship.

These people suffer from what I call the “Romantic Martyr Syndrome.”

Romantic martyrs make unhealthy choices for the sake of “love.” They claim that they are proving their love by enduring misery or abuse. Ironically, it is quite common for a martyr to resent his/her girlfriend/boyfriend and constantly complain about the relationship problems.

If you or someone you know is a romantic martyr, here are a few steps that you need to take:

Take responsibility for your relationship and life choices. I’ve seen individuals act as though someone else forced them to be in a relationship. If you have chosen a cheater, liar, abuser, or addict, then you need to take responsibility for the bad decision.

In fairness, it could be that you were initially fooled into thinking he/she was a good person. Even so, you are responsible for the decisions you make now that you know the truth. If you chose to stay in the relationship, it is your decision.

This principle also applies to investing your emotions into someone who is clearly not available for you romantically. Don’t waste your time on someone who is not available or interested. If you do this, you only have yourself to blame.

Ask yourself some tough questions. You need to be brutally honest with yourself and try to figure out what’s going on inside of you. Ask yourself, for example why you would allow yourself to be treated this way. Perhaps you are insecure. Perhaps you don’t feel you deserve someone better. Maybe there is some emotional “baggage” that you need to get rid of. A counselor could be extremely helpful in this process.

This questioning process is especially important if you have a pattern of unhealthy relationships.

Remember that respect is part of true love. If some one is not treating you with respect, then he/she does not truly love you—period. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you can be used/abused and loved at the same time.

Note: This post is primarily intended for singles. I realize that an unhealthy marriage is a much more complicated issue—a simple breakup is not an option.

This is one of the many articles that you’ll find in my book: Basta Lovelife: Making Wise Relationship Decisions.


  1. i remember my first love.. it was love that was unreturned.. i was a martyr for 4 years resenting those who courted me because i was hoping he would notice me someday.. and when he did, i let go thinking it would be impossible for him to fall for him.. it took me almost 2 years to move on.. and now we’re still good friends..

  2. that is so true. so many of us teenagers go through the same situations, in one way or another. some go have a relationship where they will say that their partner is good and nothing like the ones stated above, but when you really open your eyes to the truth, you’d see that you are settling for less than what you deserve. actually, when i was in that situation, God revealed His heart to me by showing me that He is hurt by the fact that i think i don’t deserve His best at His perfect time.

  3. i am soo not like that. i think im the partner of the martyr! coz on my last relationship (we never really broke off but we’re not talking ever again). i just havent found the right girl yet. someone who like me loves God and hates noisy music

  4. sadly to say many people doesn’t want to be a romantic martyr but they became one….there are times that we says that we will never be one of them but when we are already in this situation we will just swallow what we have said…

  5. i dont know if this is common to filipino women only.i’ve tried to be a martyr in my past relationship but it didn’t work.i broke up with him although it hurts meeh sooh badly but i’ve realized that im not the “martyr-type” most women are afraid of losing their loved one so they chose to endure the pain,the misery not knowing that they’re losing sooh much from staying in that hell-like relationship..they’re losing the chance to meet someone who will really love them and losing their dignity as a woman. if you don’t respect yourself,how would others respect you? a woman should NOT bargain herself.

  6. I guess as a whole, each of us wants to love and to be loved by a special someone as soon as possible. So we tend to jump on the first chance we get and stick to it like a glue… or give it up and then find yet another similar situation.
    Unless we understand that we don’t truly realize that we’re not ready for that ‘perfect relationship’ just yet, we won’t get it. People always complain about their love situations, why this, why that… I believe we should spend time preparing ourselves for that perfect relationship rather instead of making one ourselves.

  7. Thats really true…i have experienced it just now..i do in love with my boyfriend though he cheated me for so many times….still im hoping that he will love me the way i do love him..i do have so many sleepless nights every time i caught him with another girl….feeling deaf when i heard something bad about him…blind when i saw him chatting and flirting with other girls….

    Maybe Im so dumbed woman to fall in love with my boyfriend…hoping one day he’d realized that im here..waiting him to love me….

    He lied,he cheated me,he betrayed me,he used me ,he abused me…yet i love him….

  8. I think everyone who falls inlove have experienced in one way or another the “romantic martyrdom”. As we believe “love is a sacrifice”, we tend to compromise everything and worst, even forget our worth… I believe there is always a limitation to how much we can compromise and sacrifice for the sake of the relationship… if it’s ruining you as a person, crashing your self respect, eating your self dignity, then it’s not worth any effort anymore… I was once in a relationship where I thought I can bring the goodness in the person though I am truly aware that he has a poor character… I tried and I failed even I did everything, cared for him, prayed for him and loved him… that was the time that I said to myself, it’s DONE. I did my part, I don’t have to sacrifice my own happiness and self worth for someone who doesn’t deserve it…I know there was a reason why we came to each other’s lives. The mistakes I did was a learning experience for me, and I am sure, I’ve left a mark in his life too that will make him realize someday all his wrong doings… And if you ask me if I will ever get back to him even if he apologize and beg? the answer is NEVER… I have forgiven him but he can never earn my trust anymore…

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