Before considering how selfishness may be showing up in your marriage, let me first share a quick disclaimer about the title.
Honestly, I was pretty proud of myself for making a clever play on the old saying “sex, money, and rock n’ roll.” Then, a few hours later I sadly realized that the saying was actually “sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll” – thus making my title less clever. But this not-as-clever-as-I-once-envisioned title was still better than my other lame attempts…so I’m running with it. 😎
Now, on to selfishness within our marriages.
The Sexual Relationship
Healthy marriages are clearly based on so much more than just the physical relationship. However, a mutually satisfying sexual relationship still plays an important part! Author and intimacy expert Laura M. Brotherson shared a number ways in which couples can benefit (both individually and as a couple) as they prioritize lovemaking.
Among these reasons, she noted that sex can improve emotional intimacy, can be a great stress reliever, can actually boost the immune system, can build self-esteem, can improve sleep, and more.
A healthy and mutually satisfying sexual relationship really is a necessary ingredient for a happy marriage.
So, how are things going in your marriage? Is it possible that you’re allowing sexual selfishness to sabotage your marriage?
Sexual Selfishness Quiz
- Do you only consent to sex when you are in the mood?
- Do you insist upon sex when your spouse isn’t in the mood?
- Do you genuinely care about your spouse’s sexual satisfaction?
- Do you place this bonding marital act low on your to-do list?
The sexual relationship can be a wonderful aspect of a healthy marriage. However, when selfishness exists, this part of marriage can become an area of disagreement, stress, and frustration.
Money issues can cause stress in many marriages. Let’s face it, life can be expensive! Lots of articles talks about how financial stress can harm your marriage (see this NY Times article as an example).
Sadly, too many of the “money issues” couples deal with are self-inflicted.
As you take this quiz, honestly check yourself. Is financial selfishness is an issue in your marriage?
Financial Selfishness Quiz
- Do you often find yourself thinking more about buying what you want rather than what your spouse would prefer?
- Do you thing about whether or not your purchases fit within your family’s / couple’s budget?
- Do you purchase things without your spouse’s consent (or against his/her will)?
- Are you sneaky with your spending (like hiding some of your purchases from your spouse)?
Over the years, I’ve come to realize that selfish financial behavior is pretty common. If you struggle with this, please recognize that these habits could really hurt your marriage.
There’s one more area of selfishness that’s a bit sneakier: self-loathing (see this article for more information). Let me clear: being consistently down and hard on yourself is not a very pleasurable form of selfishness. But if we’re consistently “blue,” it can still damage the marriage just like other forms of selfishness.
We all experience some sadness of course. And there are some who struggle with clinical depression and may benefit from medical attention to help with this illness. However, for the rest of us, as we frequently allow ourselves to remain mired in our own “pity parties,” we are unable to give our best to the marriage relationship.
Take this last quiz and ask yourself, are there “pity parties” that are hurting your relationship?
Self-loathing selfishness Quiz
- Do you often find it hard to love and serve your spouse because of how you feel about yourself?
- Do you allow negative thoughts about your body or your appearance to impact your physical relationship?
- Do you convince yourself that you are not a good spouse and then allow those destructive thoughts to become a reality?
Among other things, marriages need consistent attention, friendship, and passion if they are going to thrive. Since we all have a limited amount of time and energy, if we choose to focus inwardly we won’t be able to give the time or energy needed to have a great marriage!
I have yet to see a marriage that hasn’t encountered selfishness at some point. But how we respond to our own “humanness” (as well as the “humanness” of our spouse) makes all the difference.
If you’re guilty of any of these forms of selfishness, for the sake of your marriage, work at it! We all have the ability to improve!
Please remember that happy marriages don’t simply happen. Rather, they are the result of consistent effort and intentional decisions to nourish the relationship.
How Do You React When Your Spouse Messes Up?
In various ways your spouse has let you down in the past and, at least periodically, will disappoint you in the future. And, frankly, you have and will let them down as well. We all make mistakes!
Consider the following scenarios:
You return home from work and your spouse doesn’t give you a hug, a kiss, or any other indication that she is excited that you are home. Instead, she instantly asks why you forgot to take the garbage can to the front of the house before you left for work.
It is Saturday and you have been hoping to get some house tasks completed. In fact, you also had a list of things that you wanted your hubby to accomplish today (your “honey-do list”). Yet, by 9 AM he is on the golf course with his friends.
You and your spouse are on a tight budget. Yet your spouse purchased some fairly expensive and (at least in your opinion) unnecessary items. Because of this, it will be hard to stay within budget this month.
Responses to the scenarios
Do any of the above scenarios sound familiar? How would you have responded? Would you be tempted to say (or at least think) the following:
“What’s your deal? I work hard for the family and this is the greeting I get when I return?”
“Are you serious? We were going to do housework together today, and you accepted an invitation to go golfing? You are so selfish.”
“We won’t ever meet our financial goals if you can’t stick to a budget. What were you thinking?!”
What this article isn’t about
This article isn’t about being trustworthy and doing what we say we will do. It isn’t about the importance of showing affection when you are reunited with your spouse. This article also isn’t about the critical need for communication or how selfishness can harm a marriage. This article isn’t about the need to jointly make financial decisions. Finally, this article isn’t even about the universal marital need for ongoing forgiveness – though each of those principles are important for marriage. No, this article is about none of those things.
Rather, this article focuses on one key principle – how we respond when our spouse’s behavior disappoints us.
Positive Sentiment Override
Renowned marital scholar, John Gottman, contrasts key differences in the ways happy couples and struggling couples generally respond to mistakes and imperfections in their spouse.
In happier marriages, couples seem to have a positive filter that influences the way that they respond to each other – even during times when offense, frustration, disappointment, or anger would be natural responses. He refers to this as positive sentiment override.
Simply put, positive sentiment override is the conscious and consistent decision for us to give the benefit of the doubt to our spouse. So much positivity is built up that it’s easier to overlook any momentary disappointment. Or, as a wise colleague of mine has stated, when we don’t know one’s motives, we default to an assumption of goodwill.
By contrast, in unhappier marriages, couples are more prone to assume the worst in a situation – a term Dr. Gottman describes as negative sentiment override.
While our natural responses to the three scenarios may have led to frustration and contention. How might these responses be different when you use positive sentiment override instead?
Consider how these responses and thoughts could help defuse arguments and reduce disappointment.
“My wife normally is happy to see me when I get home. I bet she had a hard day with the children. And, I did forget to take the garbage out this morning. I wonder what I can do to help cheer her up.”
“My husband has been under a lot of stress lately. Maybe a round of golf with friends will be good for him. We can get some work done when he gets back.”
“This purchase must be important to my spouse. He’s usually wise with our money.”
Please note that I am not suggesting that we simply ignore consistently frustrating behaviors from our spouse. There is a time and a place for kind, loving, candid communication.However, strong marriages remember the overall happiness of a relationship rather than dwelling in disappointment.
Can you see how the consistent application of this principle could strengthen a marriage?
The next time you feel irritation towards your spouse, give positive sentiment override a try! This concept is relatively simple to understand – though it can be much harder to apply in our marriages. However, couples that have the courage to exercise positive sentiment override will avoid unnecessary contention, increase their feelings of goodwill toward their spouse, and find more satisfaction overall in their marriage!
For the sake of your marriage, as well as your own happiness, will you experiment with positive sentiment override? You (and your spouse) will be glad you did!