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Cultivating 'Healthy Selfishness' in Your Relationship

07/28/2010 12:02 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Recently I heard a relationship referred to as "selfish," as in, "you two are so into each other, you're selfish." The comment was made by an aunt of a friend who wanted her niece to drive her to a furniture warehouse, a trip that would take most of a Saturday. My friend declined because she was meeting her husband for dinner in the city and there were things she had to do to be able to leave her house on time to get into the city. She had made a commitment.

"How long have you planned this dinner? Is it just you two or are you meeting anyone else?" asked her aunt.

When the aunt was told it was spur-of-the-moment and that it was just the two of them, she said, "If it's just you two, can't you meet him later? He'll wait."

My friend said no and that was when the selfish comment was made.

The dictionary defines the word selfish as "caring chiefly for one's self or one's own interest or comfort." Though it sounds kind of petty and self serving when applied to oneself, I think that the definition, with a little twist, is fine when applied to a relationship or marriage.

"Caring chiefly for each other, your interest and comfort" sums up exactly what a couple should have together. That's healthy selfishness.

Two people make up a unique partnership. Unfortunately, we sometimes take each other for granted. Making the effort to keep appointments with each other, caring about not keeping one another waiting, making sure that "a date set is a date kept" are areas of a relationship that couples should keep sacred.

"I sometimes put my husband last because I know he'll understand if I'm late or if I'm busy with something else," said a woman I know. "I'm probably taking advantage of his niceness but that's part of a relationship, right?"

No, it isn't nor should it be. This is a poor attitude that will eventually make her husband feel he is not that important a person in her life. If you're last, how important can you be to someone, especially the person who says they love you?

A colleague of mine says that he knows he takes his wife for granted. He will put the relationship last because he has commitments to his large extended family consisting not only of parents, sister and brothers, but close friends. He knows she understands.

I'm not so sure. He might want to ask her how she really feels about that.

Relationships need to be nurtured and not taken for granted. We seem to give to everyone else, financially and emotionally, and have only bits and pieces left over for our life together. That is wrong and damaging to any relationship.

If you were to give a dinner party you would want the most delicious food served on the nicest china that you own. If you said you were going to meet a good friend for dinner, you'd make sure that you weren't late. Extending courtesy and care to others comes as second nature; why should it be any different in your marriage?

You both need to be "selfish" in a healthy way. Making your relationship a priority in your life is a necessity. Many things, such as raising children, caring for parents and working can make an impact on your relationship and, at times, take time away from being together. These are unavoidable situations in life. But when the time comes for being together, make every effort to be selfish with each and for each other.

Devote a substantial amount of your time and energy to create a partnership that has a sacred selfishness. Don't assume it is alright with your partner if you break promises; it isn't.

Children grow up and leave home, parents are not always going to be with us; you need to establish the fact that your relationship is number one in your life. Don't put your relationship "somewhere on the list." It should be first.

Take the time to be healthily selfish. It's worth it for the rewards it will reap in your life. Remember the reason you got together in the first place. Your relationship was priority one then and it should be the same now.

To read more from Kristen Houghton, peruse her articles at Kristen Houghton.com and visit her Keys to Happiness blog.
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