Merriam-Webster defines self-interest as a concern for one’s own advantage and well-being. We live in a culture often described as individualistic and self-indulgent, and this description is usually not seen as a positive characteristic of our society. Many would argue that our culture influences males and females to think of self-interest differently. Males are encouraged to win, be competitive, and show dominance. Women, on the other hand, are encouraged to keep the peace, cooperate, and not be too bossy. So, how does this play into our relationships with the opposite sex and is self-interest always a negative thing?
Many surveys show that men want women to voice their wishes and desires more often. How many times have you heard a female friend say, “I just wish he could know what I need without me having to say it,”? Women, men are not mind readers! One of the keys to creating and keeping healthy, strong relationships is good communication. This requires people to be authentic, speak up, and voice their desires and opinions. If you are someone who tends to go along with the person you’re with, then voicing your desires may be stepping out of your comfort zone. But, ultimately, doing so will lead to better communication, intimacy, and connection. What might happen after years of being with someone, continually going along with what they want, and seldom expressing your own desires? It is going to be nearly impossible for your significant other to understand the interests and desires you hold near and dear. You may also find yourself confused about who you really are anymore. Moreover, as nice as it sounds to have someone always agreeing with you, it becomes extremely frustrating over time. For authentic, intimate connections, we need to let those close to us know our desires and interests.
For those of you struggling to feel connected to an extremely selfless person, try having more intimate conversations where you create a safe space for your partner to voice their opinions and desires. By “safe space”, I mean you allow your partner to express their thoughts and feelings without criticism. Perhaps your partner doesn’t express their opinions and desires because they were never validated as important before. Express your interest in what your partner thinks and wants. Validate their thoughts and feelings as important to you. You may also model this behavior to give them a good example. You can do this by voicing your feelings in words that do not blame or criticize and be sympathetic to their feelings when they are expressed. To make sure the conversation is not dominated by yes/no answers, ask open-ended questions. Instead of asking, “Should we go to that Mexican restaurant we both like tonight?” ask “What restaurant would you like to go to tonight?”. By not stating your own desire of which restaurant you were thinking about, you allow them to come up with their own idea. Now, this may mean you don’t get to eat at the restaurant of your choice tonight, but over time, it will establish a more authentic mode of communication.
Whether you are in a committed relationship or just looking to date, establishing good communication is going to create more authentic and intimate relationships in your life. In order to be a good communicator, you need to give as much as you receive. This means, you need to express your own thoughts as much as you listen to your partner’s. I am not saying there is not a time and place for selflessness in a relationship. Absolutely, there are times when it will pay off in huge dividends. However, the William Shakespeare quote “too much of a good thing” applies to selflessness too. When you do not share your thoughts and desires, you are building a barrier between you and the other person. So, have a little self-interest when it comes to your relationships and share your world with your partner. You will be glad you did.
If you still find yourself struggling to connect with others, click here to take the Relationship Readiness Quiz!