The Key To A Successful Marriage Might Be Subtle Selfishness


Lately, my husband has been diligently rehabbing a business. Now, given the nature of my work — its location independence and the fact that my schedule is fluid — I’ve been trying to help him out in any way I can. This has had its ups and downs, but I’ve noticed a real pattern with my own contributions.

The Pattern I’ve Noticed

I have a lot of emotional weirdness around giving and receiving. One minute I feel generous and happy with my contributions, and the next, I feel resentful and withholding. If you’ve ever felt generous then resentful (then back again), maybe you can relate. I dug deeper to figure out why this is such a stubborn cycle.

As I’ve been trying to honor my own needs while being generous to my partner, I’ve noticed that there’s a monumental difference between making mindful sacrifices for the good of the whole in a relationship and sacrificing yourself. Often, we’re prone to sacrificing ourselves for our relationships instead of giving to ourselves first and then, when we’ve filled our tank, extending outward.

Since this give, give, give cycle is so depleting, we’re left with the feeling that we cheated ourselves out of our own time and attention that we so desperately needed.

The Default Position

The sad part about this kind of over-giving is that sometimes we choose this as the default position. We put others ahead of ourselves without even considering the cost or what we’re giving up.

It’s a little like an old-school scale (think gothic scales of justice). We put our effort and giving on one side of the scale, and as it loads up and swings down lower and lower, we look around to see if anything is going on the other side of the scale to feed our own goals, dreams and hopes.

We get stuck in a place of giving out and trusting that we’ll eventually get back, but the problem is that we often overlook the needs that we could easily meet ourselves. We skip right past making ourselves happy — perhaps because we feel selfish or that if we don’t spend our energy helping everyone around us, things won’t get done. We give this labor away and what we’re left with is a cage of our own designs. It’s a feeling like we’re trapped by giving our power away.

Giving Is NOT Bad, Though

This is not to say that giving is bad, or that making sacrifices for the good of a whole is bad. What IS bad, though, is picking ourselves last — that moment we know we would feel better if we honored ourselves but don’t take the opportunity. The twinge of guilt or shame that made us say, “Yes” when we should have said, “No”. The moment in in which we know that, by putting someone else first, what we really want takes the back seat.

Then The Resentment Sets In

By doing this, we give up our power so casually that we often don’t even realize that we’re doing it. Then we feel resentful and over-extended. It feels like we’re being taken advantage of. It feels like someone else is doing something to us, but we skip right over the fact that we gave when we shouldn’t have. We gave and it got out of hand. Or we felt guilt and shame about “not helping” or “not being a nice girl (or boy).” The thing is, that “nice person” inside our psyche sometimes desperately needs to grow up into a strong adult who has the right boundaries.

Why Do We Do It?

We fear that other people won’t like us. We mistakenly believe that we can win someone over by being completely selfless (after all, it works in the movies). We fear that we’ll somehow revert to complete and utter selfishness if we say no. Maybe we’ve conditioned the people around us that they expect we’ll cater to them, and when we don’t, they freak out. We finally say, “No”, and then beat ourselves up over the other person’s reaction.

Instead, I Propose This

I think that when we honor who we truly are in our relationships — without the guilt, fear and shame involved in over-giving — we’re infinitely more attractive than when we’re doing anything out of imagined obligation or fear. I think we believe that we’ll somehow automatically cross over into b*tch territory if we honor ourselves, but this is false. It might take a while for the other people in our lives to catch up and realize that we need to balance the scale, but if they truly love and accept us, it’s not an impossible transition.

The question then becomes, how do you stop this pattern of obligated giving when you realize it’s time to honor yourself?

Create A “Version Of Your Higher Self”

Since it’s so easy to fall into this trap, I created a model who I like to think of as a version of my higher self. When I notice myself doing things I’d rather not do or twisting myself around instead of honoring my own needs, I think of her.

She’s a strong, gorgeous woman who’s known as generous and kind but puts herself first. She knows her worth and takes care of herself in all ways — physically, emotionally and spiritually. She operates from an internal locus of control. Her basic standard mindset is valuable and worthy. She doesn’t allow other people’s drama to suck her in or make her feel poorly about herself. On the career front, she feels comfortable and safe accepting payment for her labor.
Giving and receiving are safe since she lives outside the realm of fear and guilt. She gives to others only when she truly wants to — and since her own emotional tank is full (she filled it first), this is quite often. She uses the word “no” liberally and appropriately.

As a result of these self-nurturing beliefs and behaviors, she’s free from resentment or anger about her contributions. There are no angry, “Why aren’t you giving back?” moments from her since she simply removes, changes or distances herself from situations and people who aren’t generous or kind to her. She’s just as comfortable with receiving as she is giving.

Now, the further away from this higher self avatar I actually get, the worse I feel — in both my work and personal life. If you’re feeling over-extended too, why don’t you create your own version of your higher self?

What does giving to yourself actually feel like?

What does it feel like to honor your own wants first and then have the emotional resources for generosity to others?

What does it feel like to let go of fear and resentment?

Take the time to picture it vividly.