My daughter is now 3 1/2 years, but at about the age you refer to, I had a similar problem. My wife was the sole bread-winner at the time, and I felt obligated to keep our baby from waking her. It got to the point where I would literally put the baby in the carseat & drive around until she was passed out cold... sometimes it took more than an hour... at 3 a.m.
After a couple weeks of this, I talked to my wife about preparing for a few frustrating and wakeful nights.
The next couple nights, instead of driving around, I picked my daughter up to reasure her that she wasn't alone. Once she calmed down, it was back to bed for each of us. After that, she was on her own. It took about a week, but changing my behavior was the key to changing hers.
Lastly, it was knowing we weren't abusing our daughter... more than that, KNOWING we were being MORE RESPONSIBLE PARENTS by doing this, allowed us to be patient through the process.