We are often advised to practice self-care and take our own needs into account, but this can be hard when you’re in a relationship. How do you get the balance of self and another person right? The first question to ask yourself honestly is – ‘am I too selfish in this relationship?’ No one really wants to think of themselves as selfish, but in repressing it you could actually be making it worse.
Here are the signs and how to fix them:
You steer conversation from them to you
When you discuss your day, are you genuinely interested in their day, what went well and what didn’t? Do you want to support them by discussing anything that’s important to them? Or are you waiting for them to finish their daily run down so that you can tell them about yours?
If you’re more focused on your airtime than having a genuine discussion, consider why you do this? Common reasons are so that they will appreciate you, sympathise with you or be impressed with how amazing you are. These are all forms of external validation, which are normal but unhealthy in extremes. If you are aware you do this, perhaps switch it around to them. Overtly congratulate them on successes, appreciate their wins, and provide empathy and understanding when required. This switch will bring more balance and you may just find that you get back what you put out.
You keep a ‘bank balance’ of your partner’s wrongdoings so that you can use them in the future
This is a major relationship destroyer and is sadly common. Instead, be sure to raise issues with your partner when they occur, it’s best to address small things as you go rather than build up to something big. If they have apologised and you have accepted their apology, be disciplined enough to draw a line under the event at that point.
You spend time and effort considering how to get things to go your way
Relationships are hard mainly because two people will never agree on anything, so working out how to decorate, where to live and what to do with your money is always a compromise. A common pattern is that people then spend a significant amount of effort and time trying to work out how to manipulate their partner by dropping hints, leveraging things you know they care about, like ‘do it for the children’ and controlling information so that they agree with you. This might work in the short term but will ultimately lead to a bed of resentment.
Instead, work together to learn the art of proper compromising: both of you state what you really want (without taking account of the other). Take a step back and identify the key conflicting issues (try and be objective and unemotional at this point). Discuss what’s more important to who, and what each is willing to do or give up to achieve this. Keep discussing until you find a solution you are both alright with.
You always want to win an argument
If winning is important to you, be mindful this doesn’t destroy your relationship. If you are having an argument then generally you’re a bit right and a bit wrong. Once you’ve both got it off your chest, instead of digging your heels in and waiting for them to give in, take a step back and consider what you could both do to resolve this. The art of healthy conflict is easier said than done. Sometimes couples need a relationship coach or counsellor to support them, or simply put yourself in a resolution mindset rather than win mindset to make a difference.
You criticise your partner to friends, family and even your own children
Having a moan now and then is different than a pattern of putting your partner down to people you know. The reasons behind this behaviour are complex but often boil down to making you look good by making someone else look bad. This comparative is dangerous in a relationship and only makes you look mean and spiteful to other people. There are no upsides to this pattern except a small, in the moment, smugness you feel when expressing what they did wrong ‘again’.
If you want to change this, start by only referring to them in a factual way with no judgement or assessment of their behaviour. For example, ‘Yes, Peter and I went to see that show.’ It’s hard to go from being negative about someone to singing their praises, so go neutral first, then introduce positive expressions.
You always choose restaurants, things for the house, holidays…
This one is simple and often habitual. If you’re the forward thinker or planner, this role often falls to you. But it doesn’t encourage you to consider other peoples’ wants and needs. It’s like this is your reward for being organised. You may still be in charge of the process of these decisions, but make time and space to get other views and consider them before making your preferred choice.
You’re more concerned with how you look than how they feel
Barbed comments, condescending talk or even the need to be seen at certain events can all point to an imbalance. Compromise is great, but if someone in a relationship is doing something or experiencing something that makes them feel truly bad, you shouldn’t be making them do it. Get really in tune with your partner emotionally – do they like big gatherings or find them draining? Remember this is the most important person in your life so avoid things that make them feel bad.
You make sacrifices you don’t really care about because they will be ‘useful’ later
If you turn down the coffee you didn’t really want to go to anyway, to look after the kids so he can go to the gym, this is not something to be paid back later. Be explicit and honest about negotiation points rather than leaving it hanging. It will breed respect in your relationship and you may also find you actually get more of what you want by doing this than trying to manoeuvre them.
A lot of our selfish behaviour comes from within and we often don’t even realise we are doing it. It’s important to take a step back and establish where it originated. For some, it might even originate from the want to readdress an imbalance from earlier in your life. Whatever the reason, tackle it head-on in order to enjoy a fulfilling, happy relationship.