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“Marriage is that relation between man and woman in which the independence is equal, the dependence mutual, and the obligation reciprocal.”
– Louis K. Anspacher, American playwright
Marriage is supposed to be a manifestation of love and commitment; of unending devotion. In order to achieve that kind of marriage, both partners have to take a certain amount of care and put in quite a bit of work for the marriage to thrive. When one partner becomes too concerned with his own needs, he leaves the other person feeling unloved and unfulfilled. He begins to dominate the relationship with illogical expectations, which ultimately damages the relationship and causes the partners to grow apart.
According to F. Diane Barth, L.C.S.W., a New York-based psychotherapist, “The two defining characteristics of selfishness are: Being concerned excessively or exclusively with oneself [and] having no regard for the needs or feelings of others.” Selfishness has no place in a happy marriage but it is a character trait that is difficult to change. When your husband always has to have his way, you might be able to get him to see how his behavior affects you, or you might not. But regardless of how much he is willing to change, there is always something you can do.
#1) Understand Where he is Coming From
Selfishness in marriage can be brought on by several things. Newlywed couples can experience some degree of selfishness as they learn to adapt to one another, and to share their space. Couples with small children might feel that their spouse is being selfish because children require so much attention. The primary caretaker might feel that since they take care of the kids, they are entitled to being selfish in the marriage. The other spouse might feel forgotten or neglected. Selfishness can also stem from fear or anxiety. Some people are just used to always getting their way.
The point is that you shouldn’t assume that you know why your husband is acting selfish. Next time he wants to behave in a way that only benefits him, ask him–very specifically–what his motivations are. You might be surprised.
#2) Cooperation, Not Compromise
Most people think that the key to marriage is compromise but, according to psychotherapist Michael J. Formica, cooperation is a better goal. “Compromise, within the context of relationships, is troublesome because it implies that someone is giving something up,” he says. “Cooperation, on the other hand, strengthens the underlying fabric of relationship through balanced interchange, open communication and mutual understanding.”
Try to seek common ground and lead by example. Have a giving attitude and continue to show your unconditional love. Most importantly, focus on communication. It is key to developing cooperation in marriage. You must communicate openly and honestly without any hidden agendas or mind games. Let him know exactly how you feel and how his behavior is affecting you and your relationship.
#3) Remember That a Certain Amount of Selfishness is Healthy
Outside of the context of a relationship, selfishness is a good thing. It is a fundamental survival instinct that keeps us happy and reminds us to take care of ourselves. People who do not focus on themselves tend to get stressed out, overworked, and exhausted, trying to always please others.
People who carry this mindset into their relationship might not realize that their desire to protect their own interests often forestalls those of their partner. Your husband might need a reminder from time to time that you are a team. If he considers you and your marriage an extension of himself, his selfishness could actually benefit both of you and strengthen your relationship. He just needs to understand when to being selfish is beneficial and when it is detrimental.
#4) Stand Your Ground
Maybe you’ll never be able to get him to change. But you can change the way you react to him. If you’ve suffered through his demands and neediness, now is the time to stand up for yourself. Do what you can to improve your self esteem so that you no longer feel inadequate when you don’t meet his many demands… let’s just be honest here and admit that lack of self esteem is what causes us to put up with selfish people.
Also, work on the way you handle situations in which you feel he is being selfish. You should refuse to allow it, but in the right way. If you tend to resort to snarky, sarcastic comments to let him know how you’re feeling, stop. Mind games don’t work and if you wait for him to figure out how you feel, you’ll be waiting for a really long time. Without making accusations, speak up and don’t leave any room for him to misinterpret your intentions. Be bold, be blunt, and make sure you are heard.