There is a large school of thought that preaches selflessness in relationships.
Serve your partner every day.
Love them unconditionally.
Care for them in spite of their flaws.
In general, put your partner first, yourself second, and let the magic happen. I don’t necessarily disagree with these sentiments because I absolutely practice them. I do, however, believe we need to drive a selfish wedge into our relationship dogma from time to time.
Why? Because your happiness is important, too. If we travel a singular road of selflessness for too long, we may lose touch with what makes us genuinely happy. Are you keeping the football game on for your husband to simply make him light up, even though it makes you miserable? Are you cleaning the house from top to bottom just so your girlfriend will feel less despondent (all the while resenting her with each inch you dust and each crevice you clean)?
“I don’t mind. It makes me happy when I can take care of my partner.”
No, I hear you. I’m in the same boat. It brings me genuine joy to know that I am taking care of my wife; whether it be helping around the house or taking part in some activity that isn’t really my scene. Where this line gets fuzzy is when you don’t know if you’re acting out of your happiness (i.e. you’re more than happy to help your spouse because making them happy makes you happy), or if you’re acting out of duty to their happiness (i.e. “I’m doing this for you because I’m your wife, but I secretly hate you for it”).
If you are acting solely for someone else’s happiness too often, you’re bound to resent that person for taking your happiness out of the equation. They could appreciate you infinitely, which helps, but it can’t replace doing things that bring authentic joy to your life.
So, what I’m suggesting is that every once in a while, check in with yourself and ask what side of the line you’re on. Does it bring a smile to your face when you do something nice for your spouse because you know it will make their day? Or, does it feel more like a chore? Be honest with yourself. If you’re erring more on the side of being an errand boy or girl for your spouse or the person you’re dating, you need to find some ways to alleviate that notion. Is your partner asking too much of you? Tell them that you need to share more responsibility. Do you feel unappreciated? You need to sit down with your person and air that out. The longer you let the resentment seep into your veins, the harder it will be to recover the unconditional, selfless side of your relationship.
Selfishness doesn’t have to come off as arrogant, ego driven behavior, either. Let’s take me for example. If you’ve been following me for a while, you’ve probably seen or read this story in some capacity, but it’s worth telling for this particular post. A few years ago, the woman I ended up marrying, Christina, lived in a different city than I did. I lived in Niagara Falls, NY and she lived about an hour and a half away in Rochester. We did the long-distance thing for a year, all the while trying to coordinate a plan to live in the same place. We both interviewed for jobs in the opposite town, hoping that one of us could find work that would allow us to be together in the same home. I ended up getting a job in Rochester and moved out here to start our life together. Some might look at this act as an act of love; a great sacrifice in which I chose to move away from everything I knew (albeit 90 miles away) to be with the woman I loved.
Here’s the truth: I did it for me. When it came down to it, with all the variables considered, my happiness was tied to being in the same town as her. Did it make her happy? Of course it did. Did it allow our relationship to blossom? It sure did (we were engaged within a month, I wasn’t playing around). But that’s not why I took the leap. If I chose to move simply to make her happy, we wouldn’t be where we are today. You’ll never hear me say, “I can’t believe you. I moved here for you, and this is the thanks that I get.” That is a statement that someone who acts to make other people happy would utter. That’s resentment wrapped in disdain. I’ve got nothing but love for my wife, and it’s because, not in spite of, my selfish act of moving to her.
Do I want to make my wife happy? Absolutely. I know that until the day I die, that will be my mission. What I also know is that making her happy lights me up. Every little thing I do for her makes my life richer and gives it more meaning.
I’m not suggesting to parade yourself around your home thinking “Me, Me, Me.” That’s toxic to a relationship. What I’m proposing is that you check in with your genuine happiness every once in a while. If you’re thinking about some major life change-a job change, a move, getting married, or having a baby-you better be in touch with what brings you joy. If you’re acting out of duty, you’re signing up for a lifetime of resentment that will poison your relationship.
At some point, what’s best for me becomes what’s best for we. Build your way up to that, though. Make sure that your relationship and the way you act in it makes you happy.
Be selfish. Be selfless. There’s a place for both. Don’t make life all about one person, whether that one person is yourself or someone else.
Until next time,