There is a lot of talk in the world about how true love is ultimately selfless; and it is. In fact the title of this post was meant to be a bit shocking to get you to read it (The video could be considered offensive, but I find it hilarious), so I’m sorry for that. It may be a somewhat cynical view, but at the end of the day none of us goes into a relationship solely because someone else needs us; we enter relationships to meet our own needs for love, companionship, and intimacy. Healthy relationships work because both partners strive to find the balance between making their own needs known while meeting their partners needs.
So if we only go into relationships to meet our own needs, what is the point of doing all of that flowery “submission” and “serving one another” stuff? Well, it tells our partners that we are worth their investment because we are going to help them meet their needs; which in turn encourages them to help us meet ours. To that end, here are 3 “selfish” things you can do today to improve your relationship.
1. Ask Them About Their Day (So You Can Tell Them About Yours)
There’s something very cathartic about telling someone about the day. Even if nothing particularly notable happened, it’s still nice to tell someone that you woke up in a bad mood, but when you got to work there were donuts in the break room. Sometimes we tell people our stuff without them even asking for it. As anyone who has been approached by a stranger with no concept of personal space will tell you, this isn’t always welcome. But it’s different when you’re in a relationship, right? “Of course my partner wants to know how my day was! That’s why we’re together!” I hear you saying.
You’re right, they do want to hear about your day (one would hope), but they might also want to tell you about theirs. They may even be so eager to tell you about their day that they forget to ask about yours. In order to avoid this, ask about their day. Doing this does several things for you. First, it tells your partner that you are genuinely interested in the ins and outs of their day; which is very relationship affirming. Second, it opens up the conversation to more depth, because they know that you want to know. (Bonus points for asking questions to learn more about their world!) And lastly (and this is where the selfish gains come in), it cues them to ask you about your day. People tend to mirror each other, so by asking about your partner’s day you are subtly telling them that you want to share your experience with them as well.
2. Listen To Their Feelings (So They Will Listen To Yours)
One of fundamental emotional needs we as humans experience is the need to feel heard and understood. It can be intensely frustrating when we feel unheard or misunderstood by the person we most trust. This frustration plants seeds of resentment that can grow to the point that it breaks your relationship. Generally speaking, this is something that most of us want to avoid.
So what’s the answer? Simple: the Golden Rule. Do unto others as you would have others do unto you. If we want our partners to listen and hear us, the best way is to listen and hear them. This is where having a good emotional vocabulary is really useful. If your partner is complaining, do your best to pull out what they are feeling and connect with it.
It can be really tempting to fall into the trap of just saying something, or even trying to “fix” the issue, but statements like “I would be really frustrated if that happened to me” and “I can see how that hurt you” will go much farther than “Well that sucks.” This is because what we all really need is empathy, which is so much more than just acknowledging that something was unpleasant. It takes effort to really connect with the emotions of another person, and by showing our partners that we can empathize with them we show them that we are worth the effort of their empathy.
3. Say Something Nice (So They Will Be Nice)
There are some truths that could be considered “universal” in this world. Dads make dad jokes. Kids think farts are funny. And moms everywhere tell their children “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything.” Wise words, to be sure. As a general rule, people don’t like to be feel torn down. This is especially true when it comes to the person with whom they are in a committed relationship. Harsh words, criticism, and defensiveness are much easier than softness, caring, and vulnerability; but they are also destructive.
Most of us have, at some point in our lives, felt hurt because of something that someone we love has said to us. If feeling misunderstood breaks our relationship from the inside like a root, criticism, contempt, and defensiveness (3 of Gottman’s Four Horsemen that I mentioned last week) take a jackhammer to it. So naturally we want to avoid this. The best way to prevent our partners from cutting us down is creating an environment of support.
In other words: How we talk to our partners is going to influence how they talk to us. If we want to be loved and supported, the best way to get there is to be loving and supportive.
Selfish Selflessness (And Selfless Selfishness)
We live in an age where love is so over-romanticized that when the illusion that “married life is perfect” gets broken, the whole relationship tends to go with it. With that in mind, it’s important to remember that the best relationships can bring joy, happiness, and fulfillment; but only if we put in the work to bring those things into our partners lives.
What are some “selfish” things that you do in your relationship? Leave a comment with a story about some of the things you do for your partner that come back to reward you! And as always: Like and share this post if you enjoyed reading it, and follow my blog if you want to get updated when I post new stuff!