About the Author
With more than 25 years of relationship counseling experience, Dr. Jane Greer has appeared on Oprah, The Today Show, the Early Show, CNN, Dateline NBC, 20/20, Fox 5 Good Day New York, and The View. She has been interviewed in the New York Times, USATODAY, Us Weekly, In Touch, and People. Dr. Greer contributes to magazine.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Lydia and Jake haven't had sex in two months. Lydia can't figure out how they reached this point. Jake, on the other hand, blames it on the makeup mirror in their bathroom. About six months ago, he told Lydia to please push the extending arm of the mirror back against the wall when she's done with it, because he was constantly bumping into it as he got ready for bed. But she never remembers! So every night Jake hits his head, sometimes hard, realizes she forgot-or that she chose not to do this simple thing-and feels immediately angry. By the time he gets into bed, he's seething, and the last thing he wants to do is be nice to his wife. He doesn't turn to her the way he used to do, with his head on his pillow, and take her hand. He doesn't kiss her or gently tickle her like he has done for most of their marriage. He stares straight ahead, or grabs his book, and the road to sex is blocked.
For Lydia and Jake it is the makeup mirror, but your complaint could be anything-the toilet seat that is never put down, the kitchen drawer that is always left open, your partner's shoes that you constantly trip over. It is that annoying thing in your relationship that you keep banging into, the thing that makes you wonder why your partner can't make this one change for you. It's a Selfish Hot Spot, an action that drives you crazy and leads to a Selfish Standoff, an impasse in your relationship you just can't seem to get past.
Everyone has needs and desires. That is indisputable. Put two people together, and the likelihood that their needs will correspond exactly is slim to none. Sure, sometimes people want the same things: to get married, to have children, to keep the house thermostat at an even 68 degrees summer or winter. But what happens when, even if in theory people want the same things, they don't want them at the same time? Or what about when people don't want the same things at all? He likes a cold house, but she wants it to be warm. She wants to get engaged, but he wants to wait and see how it goes. Jake wants that mirror against the wall every time Lydia leaves the bathroom. But Lydia, who isn't tall enough to be bothered by the mirror, can't see what the big deal is. She tries to remember, but if she doesn't, she wonders why he can't just turn it around himself.
Is one person's need more important than another's? If Jake gets his way, isn't he being selfish? If Lydia can't do this for Jake, isn't she thinking only of herself?
Welcome to the Selfish Game. You start out having fun with your partner, both wanting to share. However, somewhere along the way the game becomes competitive without your even realizing it, because if you are one of two people with different needs, a clash is inevitable. You end up pitting your needs against each other instead of being able to find a compromise, so that in the end there is either a winner or a loser. The minute that you have any differences in style, taste, preference, or personality that require a sacrifice from either you or your partner, it is going to raise the question of whether one of you is being selfish. And the game is afoot. In every relationship you have basic needs that constantly simmer below the details of life. You're looking to feel loved, desired, valued, accepted, safe, and secure. You want to please your partner and be pleased by them. You want attention, and you want your thoughts, ideas, and feelings to be validated. You want to see your best reflected in your loved one's eyes-the admiration, attraction, desire, and respect that you hope your partner has for you.
But that is hard to sustain. As the relationship grows, it's inevitable that selfish behavior will creep in on both sides as you become more comfortable with your partner and worry less about pleasing them. You start out picture-perfect but grow ugly to each other over time, because you are seeing your worst reflected back at you. And it is so surprising, because you began your relationship, as everyone does, seeing that adoring look of love. That's what I call the mirror of romance. It's one of the main things that brought you and your partner together in the first place. And you expect it to always be that way. So often, though, the mirror of romance fades with time, transforming into a judgment mirror that reflects only the bad you.
Please, join me in my office. Take a seat on the cream couch over there. Don't mind my dog, Totopuff, a.k.a. Puffy. He won't bother you. And listen with me to the toll selfishness takes on relationships as people deal with the ins and outs of daily living and how they are conquering the Selfish Game, one Hot Spot at a time.
Max was in my office recently. He didn't want to work on his marriage. Why bother, he asked. Shouldn't it just fall into place? I replied, okay, if you don't want to work on how to get along better in a positive way with your wife, then let's work on how you're going to end your marriage. That's a ton of work in itself by the time you figure out the finances, living situations, emotions. Then, after you're finally through the turmoil of the divorce, you'll be single again and have to take the next step of meeting someone else. And then, once you're finally in another relationship, you're going to have to work on that. So, I told Max, pick your poison. Do you want to do the work now or do it later? He laughed and said okay, he got it. He was ready to work on his marriage.
Nobody gets a pass on doing the work. If you want to have the other person in your life, and it is worth it to you to make the effort, then you won't feel like your life is being interrupted by that person and that it is a bother to stop what you are doing to make time for your partner.
I believe that if people have the proper knowledge and skills, they will better be able to reconcile their differences. But more often than not, they're not prepared, so they end up in scenarios in which the emotional and sexual issues are played out, often leading to those Selfish Standoffs I mentioned earlier, as well as Sexual Showdowns. This book will equip you with the tools you need to see beyond what you see as selfish requests and to learn to understand all the differences, fears, and preferences that come between people. By understanding them, you'll see these are not the only measures that determine whether you are loved by the person you are with. You will get a sense of what is causing the problems in your relationship and how you are eventually going to resolve them. And you will know better how to communicate with your partner and consider each other's needs.
This power struggle between what I want versus what you want has existed between all couples since the beginning of time, but it is more pronounced in the twenty-first-century entitlement explosion. Self-centeredness is acceptable and encouraged and has reached epidemic proportions.
Everyone feels that they deserve to get exactly what they want when they want it, and it's wreaking havoc with our relationships. Couples are constantly squabbling, jockeying for position, and searching for ways to get their needs met-either with no regard for their partner's feelings, with great guilt over their perceived selfishness, or something in-between. On the other side, people are trying to make sense of living with partners who appear to be all about themselves: self-absorbed, self-centered, self-indulgent, narcissistic.
And this is a new brand of selfishness, because thanks to advancements in technology, there is a pervasive overtone in society that supports the me mentality. Everything is instant, new and improved, satisfaction guaranteed. When something is broken, we'd rather replace it than fix it, and that attitude has bled over to relationships. The world is in the palm of your hand, and almost everything you desire can be a click away.