It sounds counterintuitive to suggest that selfishness could be the key to relationship success given that most of us have been raised to do the opposite.
I know I was.
I should start by saying that I was very blessed to hit the parental jackpot. My folks are pretty outstanding human beings who have weathered a lot together during their 40-years of marriage.
But without being aware of it, through observing her I learnt from my Mum that being selfless and giving everything you have to everyone else was the secret to being a good human being.
And I carried that into my relationships with my ex-partners.
I gave them my time, my love, my attention, my emotional and financial resources, everything I had went into those relationships and all of my own dreams went out the window because I believed that was simply what you did when you loved someone.
While there were many reasons those relationships didn’t work, namely how unsuitable we were for one another, a massive contributing factor was my inability to ever put myself first — which is a sizeable burden for both partners to carry.
I’m not doing a complete 180 and flipping in the other direction but if experience has taught me anything it’s that there’s a balance to be struck between selflessness and selfishness, a healthy middle ground that enables you to not get lost in your relationship.
Because trust me, once you’ve lost yourself it’s a long road home.
Here’s why putting ‘me’ before ‘we’ has its place when it comes to building a love that lasts.
3) The sparkle factor
I remember my ex-partner commenting to me that one of the reasons he fell in love with me was that I had such a sparkle in my eyes when we first met.
Two and half years later, the sparkle was completely gone.
And yes, a part of that was undoubtedly due to the two of us being a poor match for one another but there was something bigger at play. I was so focused on the needs of the relationship and being the best partner I could be that I lost sight of my own dreams and the things that brought me joy.
When you’re engaged in things outside of the relationship that energise you and infuse your life with a sense of meaning and purpose, as corny as it sounds your eyes do have a sparkle to them and your energy does light up a room because you’re doing things that bring you joy.
Think about the things that light you up and make a commitment to yourself to go do them. If you’re not sure what those things are, think back to what you enjoyed when you were a kid because those tend to be a pretty good indicator of what you’d likely still enjoy now.
While you’re nurturing your relationship, make sure you’re also nurturing yourself — your eyes will thank you for it!
2) You’re able to build a strong sense of self
Perhaps I’m the only one but it can be easy to end up taking on your partners identity.
All of a sudden their goals become your goals, their dreams become your dreams, their likes and dislikes become your likes and dislikes.
It feels like one of the biggest challenges we face in relationships is continuing to build, grow and maintain our own sense of self, to avoid bleeding into one person.
There is of course a coming together in relationships and there are parts that naturally will merge together but you’re still an individual in your own right and giving up all of who you are for someone else causes such a lot of pain in the long run.
When you adopt a healthy dose of putting yourself first and work on cultivating your own garden, you’re able to bring that fully-formed person to your relationship.
And it needs that. It needs you whole. It needs you standing strong in who you are. It needs that balance.
Your relationship has a much better chance of standing the test of time if you’re clear on who you are and can bring that person, in all their richness and fullness, to your partnership .
1) You’re better able to support your partner
I know we’ve all heard this one before, the old idea that you can’t pour from an empty cup, that you need to put your own life jacket on before you help someone else.
Logically we all know this but we’re not always great at turning common sense into common practice.
It does make sense though and it’s probably one of the biggest contributing factors to healthy long-term relationships.
If you first put your attention on giving yourself what you need to be happy, healthy and vibrant, on supporting your own wellbeing, then you have the energy to support your partner and think about what they need.
It may not go down well at first if you’re in a relationship where you’ve taught your partner that their needs come before yours but renegotiating the boundaries is important. Some short-term discomfort will pay dividends in the long run.
Consider redirecting some of the support you’re giving your partner back to yourself so that you’re not running on empty. Think of it like putting your garden hose into a bucket and leaving it running — you want all of what’s in the bucket to keep yourself physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually well, and all the water that’s overflowing is yours to give to your partner.
Learning to put ‘me’ before ‘we’ doesn’t at first glance seem like a great strategy for building a love that lasts and it’s certainly true that you can do it without that but quality is just as important as quantity.
You can definitely have a 50 or 60 year long marriage based on pure selflessness in which you give all of who you are to the relationship but will that bring you a sustained sense of peace and joy or will you feel lost, confused, angry and resentful because you’ve sacrificed yourself to the point of burnout?
It’s a question worth considering.
You can still be a phenomenal partner and human being by putting yourself first and it’s highly likely that in doing so you’ll bring a certain sparkle to the relationship that your partner will thank you for.