Saying "No" To Selflessness How putting your spouse’s needs and interests without voicing your own can lead to a complete loss of love for one another. BY EDWIN LOCKE PH.D AND ELLEN KENNER PH.D
Being in agreement in your relationship without voicing your own opinion can be damaging to your marriage.
“ Becoming a doormat in a relationship destroys love. ”
"My partner means the world to me. I would do anything for him. I want nothing
for myself. I want only to please him."
This is something you might hear or say when you first fall in love; the whole world seems to fade into the background. Your lover is center stage. When you’re apart, you intensely long for this person. You imagine being in one another’s arms. You plan wonderful events to surprise or please your spouse. You feel complete.
Fast forward five years and now it’s more like, "I wish they would give me a break!" You no longer feel complete, but instead feel depleted. Your days revolve around catering to your spouse. You long for the few moments you can get away from the "ol’ lady" or "ol’ man," whether it be grabbing a drink with buddies or taking a "breather" when your spouse visits relatives or has to travel for business. Why do most romantic relationships sour so fast? What mental policy is guaranteed to destroy any marital paradise? And what mental policy can rescue your romance?
Try an exercise: Look at the quote at the outset of this article, and see if you find a clue in it. The death knell to a great relationship is in that quote. Don’t read further till you try this.
Did you identify the death knell? If you pulled out these sentences: "I would do anything for him. I want nothing for myself. I want only to please him," you are well on your way to a more rewarding romance. Becoming a doormat in a relationship destroys love. Selflessness, or altruism, is the romance-killer policy.
To see the selfless pattern clearly, let’s take a trip into the life of Mandy and Dan. Dan is Mandy’s dream companion: smart, handsome, ambitious, caring and passionate about their lovemaking. Secretly, Mandy doesn’t feel as though she’s completely worthy of him. She’s always felt a tad insecure. To make sure he stays around, she tells herself that she must make him happy. That thought is soothing to her. "At least I’m not selfish," she muses, "I’ll be the best wife I can be."
Dan and Mandy go apartment hunting. Dan loves the city; Mandy loves the country, but she feels guilty letting Dan know how strongly she feels about this. So when he suggests looking only at apartments in city, she meekly says, "Okay." As they check out apartments he’s chosen, she’s silently at war with herself: Yes, they are all decent apartments, but in the city! She coaches herself to believe that her needs are not that important. What matters is that Dan is happy, so she feigns approval of Dan’s top choice. Dan senses her hesitancy and encourages her to voice her opinion. She adamantly insists, "Oh no! I really like the place!" and feels shaky and a bit nauseous inside. This becomes their home.
This selfless pattern continues with their hobbies: Dan enjoys skiing. Mandy doesn’t like the cold but doesn’t dare tell Dan her preferences (dancing and playing volleyball). So they spend a few weekends every winter on the slopes. Dan can’t understand why it takes Mandy so long to pack for these trips, and why she seems to catch colds when they arrive at the lodge, leaving him to ski alone.
Mandy’s selfless, altruistic policy is multiplied in countless daily choices. No wonder Mandy wants a "break" from Dan. He’s not a bad guy, but increasingly she sees him as selfish and feels resentful. He is baffled. He senses something is very wrong with his wife but can’t quite put it into words.
Of course, men often make the same mistake, and in many marriages both partners try to sacrifice for one another, ending in mutual insecurity and mutual resentment.
Self-valuing, not selflessness—nor a "my way or the highway" narcissism—is essential for romance. When both partners learn to value themselves and learn how to communicate well with one another their romance flourishes.
Edwin Locke, PhD, a world-renowned psychologist, and Ellen Kenner, PhD, a clinical psychologist and host of the nationally-syndicated radio talk show, The Rational Basis of Happiness, have co-authored "The Selfish Path to Romance: How to Love with Passion and Reason." Both are experts on Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism. For more information visit www.selfishromance.com.