Have you ever been called “selfish” by your spouse, partner or someone else you care about?
It hurts, doesn’t it?
To be called selfishness is just about always meant as a criticism. It’s often followed up with labels like, “self-centered” and “narcissist.” Ouch! Sometimes the one who accuses you of being selfish feels left out, ignored or that his or her needs aren’t being met by you.
Sometimes the other person has a point…
But what many of us do in an attempt to NOT be selfish, is just as damaging to a love relationship or marriage as is neglecting or disregarding another person’s wants and needs.
It can feel embarrassing and shameful to be considered selfish and so it’s common to make the completely opposite mistake. Perhaps you do this too. Because you don’t want to be seen as selfish, you do anything and everything you can to put your needs last. You become hyper-aware of what you think your partner wants you to do and be and you make that your goal…even if it’s not in line with your own priorities and aspirations.
You sacrifice what’s important to you in the process of trying to please your partner. and it usually brings even more disconnection, conflict and pain to you and your relationship.
This is where one of our newsletter readers is in his relationship. He emailed to ask us for advice to “make his girlfriend happy.” The man listed off a few of her criticisms of him including: not being intimate enough, unable to communicate, spiritually stunted and sexually lacking. His words indicated how desperate he is to change so that she will be happy with him again and so their relationship will survive.
Our advice to him, essentially, was to be selfish.
We recommended that he consider what his girlfriend had to say and to be honest with himself about where it might be beneficial for him to make some changes. However, we urged him to make any changes for himself and not for her– not even to “make her happy.” We advised this reader to get more in touch with what would help HIM be happier and more confident and open instead of focusing so much on what he believes would make his girlfriend happier.
We don’t know what will happen in this man’s relationship and we wish him the best, but we hope he’ll take our words to heart.
It just doesn’t work to use your partner as your barometer for what you “should” do and here’s why…
Your partner’s happiness (or any other emotion) isn’t YOUR job. It’s natural to want the one you love to be happy, but it’s beyond your control. It’s up to your partner to make him or herself happy.
You set yourself up for failure when you give your partner the power to decide where you will change (and where you won’t), because you’ll guess and assume what he or she wants– and will likely be incorrect.
When you stop listening to your inner guidance for where you could improve and what you will do and be, you cut yourself off from what makes you uniquely you and this opens the door to resentment and dissatisfaction.
Even if you’re already aware of the hazards of sacrificing yourself and trying to please your partner, you might remain hesitant to embrace being “selfish.” If so, consider this…
Selfishness is NOT about being insensitive, disrespectful or ignoring what your partner wants.
Selfishness is NOT the inability to see anybody’s perspective but your own.
Selfishness is also NOT about you always getting your way.
Selfishness can be you listening fully to your partner and responding with honesty and kindness.
Selfishness can be you showing up in your relationship as more self-aware, confident (and less prone to jealousy or neediness).
Selfishness can allow you to be a more present and engaged communicator, because you’re not caught up in worries that your partner will be disappointed or angry.
Selfishness can be you acting in integrity with who you are and what you value.
Is it possible to be selfish to the extent that you close down others and walk all over the ones you say you love? Yes and that’s why it’s important to be a certain kind of selfish.
When selfish in your life and relationship, you are standing right where you are…your self-oriented point of view. That doesn’t mean you can’t hear anybody else or that you can’t respect and cooperate with another person. It does mean that you’re aware and secure enough that you’re willing to stay open, be honest and cooperate.
And THOSE are essential ingredients for a happy relationship!