Often times I ask couples when issues started to worsen or problems developed. The answer varies but most will mention that things haven’t always been like this. “They would ask me about my day when we were dating or go out of their way to make me feel loved, but that never happens now,” is common to hear, but why does that change after 15 years of marriage? A common thread I’ve noticed with couples is increased selfishness through the years. This sounds harsh, but let’s look at it.
Everyone loves the honeymoon phase of any relationship. Everything seems so new as you’re learning new things about this other person, and you can’t help but feel those butterflies in your stomach. Unfortunately this is short-lived and often becomes a distant memory, then life happens as children are born, work becomes tiring, you have decreased energy, etc. This is when we feel like the relationship is stuck in a monotonous rut and seems like your spouse is more of a roommate, but why is that? I think we unknowingly become selfish as relationships and marriage progress. Throughout life, we make routines and schedules to get through life and keep us from going crazy. These serve as a way of keeping us afloat, but what happens is that we do this with only ourselves in mind. We begin to do what works best or comfortable for us, which makes sense. Unfortunately we do this without our spouse in mind. No longer we do everything with our spouse in mind like it was earlier in the relationship, so how do we fix that? The answer is not that we make our worlds revolve around our spouse, but rather we change the focus from “me” to “we”. It’s a shift in thinking so that it’s not two separate individuals navigating life, but rather a singular unit composed of two people going through life together.
In counseling, the most common area of marriage I’ve seen the needed shift from “me” to “we” is communication. Unsurprisingly this is usually the biggest stressor and reason to come in for couples counseling, but it makes sense! For example, you have a husband and wife who feel their spouse “just isn’t listening” to them in an argument. I then ask each spouse what they’re thinking about during the argument, and they say it’s solely to prove or defend their own point. See the issue? Both spouses are so focused on their point of view that they can’t hear and understand what the other is truly trying to convey. When the selfish barrier is broken and each spouse genuinely seeks to understand the other is when the argument becomes productive, but only when we come to the realization of, “Let me listen and focus on what they’re saying, and not what my own response or point of view is.” Most issues don’t have a right or wrong perspective, so we need to fight the urge to be right and instead focus on our spouse’s point of view. Many times our spouse will view things from a different perspective, allowing us to gain a more complete understanding, and that’s one of the beauties of marriage!
We don’t usually consciously choose to be selfish at the cost of our spouse, but it is still destructive to any relationship. For most, the default setting is to take care of ourselves and focus on our needs being met. Nevertheless, we need to remind ourselves and be vigilant that the focus is on “we” not “me”.