Over the next few months, I’ll be writing about personality traits and habits that can make a marriage succeed or fail. This week’s post is about selfishness.
When we are teenagers, we tend to be selfish. We’re finding our way in the world, and think that it revolves around our needs and us. Selfishness usually fades with maturity, but not always.
To be a good partner in a love relationship, one has to be giving, which involves the opposite of selfishness–selflessness. Every great marriage is an equal give and take relationship.
Everyone likes when things work out in their favor, but selfish people routinely put their wants and needs ahead of everyone else’s. They think they are happy when they are getting their way, but it works against them in other ways, and it can be bad news for a marriage.
Often, selfish people don’t think of themselves as selfish. Here are some characteristics of selfish people:
1. They like being in control and getting their way all the time
2. They find it difficult to compromise
3. They would rather not participate in an activity than go along with the choice of others. This includes an unwillingness to try something new.
4. In the mind of selfish people, everything is about them. They don’t put themselves in other people’s shoes.
5. It is difficult to put the needs of others ahead of their own.
6. They hear constructive criticism as a personal attack.
7. They are not good at sharing.
We all know people who we think are selfish. How do you feel about them? Not particularly warm and fuzzy, I’m guessing. Is it worth getting your way all the time at the expense of other people? At the expense of your marriage?
Selfish people also tend to be selfish in bed. Getting their needs met is paramount, and often to the detriment of their partner. Not a very satisfying scenario, is it?
With selfishness, we reap what we sow. I worked with a man whose father was a very selfish person. His mother had poor self-esteem and was very submissive, so she allowed her life to revolve around her husband’s wants and preferences. She spent many years serving him both to her own disadvantage and that of other family members. She sacrificed many of her dreams because her husband wouldn’t support her efforts to live them.
The son had a very bad role model in his father. When he married, he too behaved selfishly. Although not as bad as his father, he put his needs ahead of those of his wife and children because that is what he observed as a child—the man of the house did what he wanted without thinking much about its effect on the people he loved.
His wife, however, was not submissive. Over the years, she tried to get the husband to share in the child-rearing and other household responsibilities. Eventually, the man’s selfishness crossed a line, and his wife told him very clearly how it was a serious problem in their marriage and family. He decided he wanted to change, and never looked back. In fact, he found to his surprise and delight that he felt much better as a giving person than as a selfish one. Now, he is a much better father and husband. And person.
How does one become less selfish?
1. Question yourself. Becoming less selfish starts with recognizing your selfishness. If you don’t admit to this trait, you will never overcome it. Learn to notice your thoughts and feelings and to question them. For example, is this really the type of spouse I want to be?
2. Become a good listener. Listen to what your spouse is saying, rather than thinking about how you are going to undermine him to get your own way, or how you’re going to rebut what he’s saying. Really listening is a form of giving by itself, and an unselfish act.
3. Put yourself in your spouse’s shoes. Think about how your spouse would feel under the circumstances. Let’s say you’re invited to spend a weekend at a friend’s place in San Francisco. You love San Francisco, but you know your husband had a very busy week, and needs your help with the kids this weekend so he can finish installing insulation before the weather gets cold. Would you like it if he left you for a weekend in that situation?
4. Try putting your needs last. When you share your life with others, it is important to know when and how to put their needs ahead of yours. Supporting your husband when his mother is dying might mean giving up those Adele concert tickets this week. His gratitude at your selfless acts will more than make up for anything you gave up.
5. Think of your marriage in terms of “we” rather than “I.” What is the best choice for your marriage?
6. Be open and honest with your spouse. Having excellent communication is key to any good marriage. Learn to identify those things you are reluctant to talk about and ask yourself why that is. It may be best to either stop doing whatever it is, or to let your spouse know about it so it is in the open. Selfishness includes hiding things like your thoughts and actions, as well as purchases you can’t afford or other indulgent behavior.
7. Avoid criticizing and blaming your spouse. Selfish people tend to think that everything that goes wrong is someone else’s fault. Only emotional children blame others when they are unhappy. (Click HERE to read “Are You An Emotional Child or Emotional Adult?”) Plus blame causes the attacked partner to put up walls of protection, and these walls keep love out.
8. Engage in some give-and-take. You love exploring the great cities of Europe on vacation, but your husband would prefer to relax on a beach in Martinique. Make a point of taking turns making decisions like these when your preferences are different.
Flexibility is a key ingredient to a good marriage. If you find that you think, “your way or the highway,” consider working on changing this character flaw. Coaching can help. Work with me, and I will help your marriage ascend to greater heights! Click HEREfor a free, no obligation mini-coaching session.