Is your relationship being destroyed by your partner’s selfishness? Or are you the one who is being selfish? Or are you both behaving selfishly?
Although selfishness is not often cited as a leading cause for couples to break up, I believe it is. But not necessarily in the way, you might think.
When it comes to a romantic relationship, many people would associate selfishness with an unwillingness to compromise. That’s not what I am talking about. Compromise requires participation and agreement by both partners. I am talking about selfish behavior whereby a person demands and expects their partner to agree, overlook, and concede to their wants, their beliefs, their values (or lack of them), and their way of doing things without any compromise on their part. A selfish partner like this may be a likable and even compassionate person, but their selfish nature dominates their thoughts and actions.
I’ve rarely heard psychologists mention selfishness as the reason for conflict in a relationship. That would be too simple. They are too busy sifting through their Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) looking for a “disorder” to tag on one or both partners or the relationship itself.
A psychologist might diagnose one of the partners in the relationship as having a “Narcissistic Personality Disorder” (as described in the DSM). But if you review the symptoms, a person would have to be really messed up to fit that. Unfortunately, psychologists and insurance companies rely almost exclusively on this manual. Therefore, they will keep looking until they find something.
So how does simple, old fashion selfishness lead to problems in a relationship? Let me describe how they behave. In a romantic relationship, a selfish person will…
- Demand that things go their way more often than not without much interest in what their partner wants.
- Demand that their partner changes his/her tastes, principles, and goals to match theirs.
- Demand that their partner listens to and helps them with their problems without offering or being very willing to do the same for them.
- Expect no repercussions if they spend excessive amounts of joint bank account money or credit on themselves.
- Expect no repercussions if they spend excessive amounts of time with exes, potential romantic partners, and friends who are also selfish.
- Expect no repercussions if they spend excessive amounts of time doing fun things when it leaves their partner having to do all the work e.g. bill paying and financial planning, food shopping and preparation, home maintenance and repair, and childcare and rearing.
If you’re in a relationship where there are serious problems being created due to your partner’s selfishness, it could take a massive amount of time, energy, and sacrifice to change this deep-rooted part of their personality. The cost could easily be more than the reward. If you compare the price you’d have to pay with the discomfort of breaking up and looking for someone who’s level-headed, it could be worth it to you.
If you’re the one who’s selfish, you’ve got some important decisions to make. This would be especially true if your partner is enabling your selfish behavior. Maybe they have martyr tendencies or they have a passive personality. Regardless of the cause, the relationship is unhealthy because it is allowing and encouraging inappropriate behavior. You might be able to straighten yourself out on your own or with the help of a family member or friend. However, if you continue the relationship without renegotiating it, taking a break, or ending it, it might be like an alcoholic living in a house full of liquor. You could easily slip back into the same behavior and unhealthy relationship.
If there are children involved, you need to weigh the cost that staying or leaving would have on them. They should be the priority since they will pay the highest price.
If there are no children involved, breaking up may be the best choice for you and your partner. In fact, if you look at things logically, there may be few if any good reasons for staying in the relationship. If you’re having trouble with this decision, this exercise may help.
Imagine being in a relationship with a person who is not selfish but rather self-confident and giving. How does that make you feel? The way you feel when you imagine this may provide the answer.