We are undoubtedly a self-obsessed society. We share snippets of our days on our Instagram stories, down to the avocado toast we had for brunch. We snap gym selfies, because heaven forbid we get a workout in without documenting it and publishing it onto a social platform, with likes and comments for validation. This obsession with sharing everything about ourselves (or at least the good parts) has the dangerous potential to turn us into pretty self-absorbed people.
What happens, then, when that kind of self-focused behavior undoubtedly carries over into our relationships—our marriages, in particular?
An excessive focus on ourselves blinds us to the needs of our spouse. Stephen Mizzell puts it this way: “When we are so consumed with our own welfare and the constant attention that it takes, we ignore the needs of those around us.“ This kind of behavior is detrimental to marriages. Relationships thrive off of give and take, with both spouses participating on the giving and receiving ends.
For our relationships to flourish, we need to race for last place. We need to deny society’s insistence that life is all about us, and put our spouse’s needs first. When both spouses in a marriage are racing for last place, contentment abounds because both partners are actively seeking to meet the other’s needs.
So, what are some practical things you can do to avoid the pitfalls of selfishness in marriage and build a better relationship with your spouse?
Resist the need to constantly be right. A compulsion to always be right is an obvious sign of selfishness in a relationship. The reality is, you won’t always be right, and stubbornly insisting on having your way in every discussion or argument is unfair and disrespectful to your spouse. Moreover, if your spouse knows you will fight to the death over even the smallest things, they are more likely to avoid confrontation altogether, which can result in problems building up. Resentment will infect your marriage like a slow-spreading virus if you approach every discussion with the attitude that you must always be right.
Avoid the blame game. When things go south, we have a tendency to point fingers and try to absolve ourselves of blame. That is hardly a sound tactic in marriage. Owning up to your mistakes and taking responsibility for your part in an issue communicates to your spouse that you are in this together, and that you have the humility to accept responsibility.
Consider your spouse in your decision making. If we want our marriages to thrive, we’ve got to combat the belief that our needs always come first. Of course, that doesn’t mean you forego your own well-being in pursuit of making your spouse happy. But be willing to set aside your own expectations and desires, and to consider your spouse’s feelings in the decisions you make.
Look for ways to serve your spouse. Early on in the relationship, this usually happens pretty naturally. But as time goes on and the rose-colored glasses become a little less rosy, we can forget to intentionally serve our spouse. Look for ways to revive that in your marriage. This service doesn’t have to be a grand gesture. It can be as simple as doing an extra house chore so your spouse doesn’t have to do it, or bringing home a small gift just because you were thinking of them. These little acts of service to your spouse demonstrate to them that you are actively putting their needs first. You are sacrificing something of yourself and tangibly showing that you appreciate them, without expecting something in return.
In good times and hard times, continue to race for last place. If you’re in a place in your marriage where you’re feeling stuck—maybe under-appreciated or overlooked—your instinct might not be to respond in a selfless way toward your spouse. Do it anyway. Find ways to show your spouse that they are seen and loved and appreciated. You may be surprised to find that kind of behavior is highly contagious.