Thomas Fiffer (selfishly) believes that looking out for #1 makes you a better mate.
Let’s get this out of the way first. I’m not talking about selfish assholes or hard core narcissists who think the world revolves around them. We all know these people make terrible partners and destroy relationships. I’m talking about people who make their own needs a priority and don’t always put their partner’s needs first.
Now, why is it important to do that and not make pleasing your partner the be-all and end-all of your relationship?
Well, first off, if that’s all you worry about, it’s fair to ask, what’s in it for you? Sure, some people get a big payoff from caring for others (myself included), but if you’re sacrificing your own needs and desires to make someone smile or get that person to be nice to you, you’re not having a relationship of equals. You’re acting as an underpaid, under-appreciated caretaker, and your resentment (come on, admit it) is bursting at the seams of your close-mouthed, gritted-teeth smile. We’ve been taught that intimate relationships are about pleasing others—and they are, but only to a degree. Relationships are vehicles for meeting our basic emotional, physical, and spiritual needs, and to get our needs met, we have to believe they’re important and be willing to advocate for them. If you can’t or won’t do that, you’re actually being a lousy partner, because you’re creating your own unhappiness and setting your significant other up for failure and blame. In addition, intimacy is about bringing your full self to the table, not a watered-down version or carbon copy of your partner.
Making your needs important, always as important as your partner’s and sometimes more important—especially if it’s a deal-breaker or you’re at an emotional breaking point—is not only good for your own psyche but also the best way to keep your relationship healthy and balanced. To use a dance metaphor, if you’re always letting your partner lead and never complaining when your toes get stepped on, you’re not being a good dance partner, because you’re not helping your partner grow or learn how to stop hurting you.
Here are three reasons why I believe selfish people, by which I mean those who value and prioritize their own needs, make better relationship partners.
1. Selfish people set a standard for their needs to be taken seriously and train their partners to value them. This leads to healthy interaction and relationship growth. The ugly truth is, we only value people, and especially our intimates, as much as they value themselves. If you’re a doormat, you get stepped on, and that trampling becomes an ingrained relationship pattern. The longer it goes on, the harder it is to break, and the more resentment builds up from the crappy treatment. If you allow your partner to dominate you and never speak up for yourself, you’re contributing to the problem and equally responsible for your own misery. And you’re committing the number one sin of negotiating which is negotiating against yourself. Expecting your partner to advocate for your needs for you, especially if your needs conflict with his or her own, is unrealistic. And if you’ve chosen a person who loves you and does value your happiness and well-being, you’re doing that person a disservice by minimizing and marginalizing your needs in deference to theirs.
2. Selfish people give more. Wow. How does that work? Well, when your needs are met, you have more to give to others. It’s actually pretty simple. People who make sure they get the emotional, physical, and spiritual sustenance they need from a relationship are able to use the energy that nourishment provides to give back to the relationship. It’s hard to give when you feel drained and depleted, and if you feel you can’t ever ask for anything, hopelessness and despair—and the lethargy that accompany them—set in. Being selfish about your needs ensures that you don’t run out of gas and keeps your engine running smoothly. It enhances your performance, not only as an individual but also as a partner.
3. Selfish people are happier, and happier partners make better partners. We love being around happy people. They infuse us with energy and hope, make us laugh, and make life lighter and brighter. That’s how I want my partner to be. So if you want your partner to be happy, encourage—yes, I said encourage—him or her to be selfish. This goes beyond encouraging self-time for workouts, social activities, or hobbies, all of which are important. It means encouraging self-love. It means saying, “Hit me with those needs of yours … and I’ll hit you with mine.” When you and your partner become mutually selfish, or equally self-oriented—as opposed to other-oriented—you meet your partner’s whole self and open up vast new ranges of relationship enjoyment. You start to share the real you. And in doing that, you open the door for that you to be part of an “us.” A huge part of happiness is being true to our own values and desires, and doing that means being, well … selfish.
Remember, it’s not all about you. But if it’s not about you at all, it’s not going to work as a relationship—for your partner or yourself.