We hear a lot about how compromise is the necessity of relationships but it’s a fine line. Give away too much in the name of love and you can fade to a fragment of the person you were. The best kind of relationship doesn’t lay down conditions or demands (beyond set out deal breakers). Instead, it allows a framework for two people to operate both independently and in sync with one another.
Essentially, setting personal boundaries and making agreements around them allows for everyone to grow and thrive. While ‘selfish’ is a word bandied around as a negative term, a degree of selfishness can be essential to maintaining a balanced, healthy relationship. Here’s some ways to be positively selfish in the best possible way and nourish a partnership that respect boundaries and personal needs.
Having separate accounts can avoid being too enmeshed
One of the most positively selfish things you can do in a relationship is keep your own bank account to safeguard and use however you want. If you and a partner want to have a joint account where you siphon off some of your cash into mutual interests – a mortgage, say, or monthly bills – this makes a lot of sense, but having separate accounts can help avoid being too heavily enmeshed with each other.
It’s also fine if you contribute to a joint account proportionately, based on your income. But we shouldn’t get to the point where we assume possession of your partner’s cash or vice versa. If you need to support one another through certain periods of life, having kids or going freelance, for example, that’s up to you and you can have conversations and make arrangements as you go. But handing over a credit card or being told how to spend your own money is dangerous ground that can pave the way for unfair power dynamics.
Keep some separate friends and make space to see them
Make the effort to spend time with your own mates, no matter how busy life gets. And don’t let them take second place to your relationship. Deprioritising your friends is not only uncool, it’s also short-sighted: statistically most friendships will outlive romantic relationships, and they’re a stronger predictor of happiness, too.
The subject of joint friends also falls within this bracket. If you happen to be pals with your partner’s friends, great. But if you don’t, don’t feel obliged to attend every boozy bonding weekend in the role of someone’s other half. A friendly face now and again is fine and nice to do. You don’t have to like your partner’s friends anymore than you have to go to every event together. Keep some separate friends and make space to see them and support them.
Carve out space for yourself, spending a few evenings out each week
Look at the more healthy relationships around you and you’ll often find that the people within them often do their own thing and have autonomy. A little bit of distance is crucial to establishing that sense of independence. Some relationships choose to live apart for portions of the week, while others follow suit in an effort to ‘consciously couple’.
But since most of us can’t actually afford two homes, the next best step is to carve out space for yourself. Spend a few evenings out each week flexing your own freedom. You might pursue a passion project, like creative writing, head on a pub crawl with friends or go to the cinema alone for that film a loved one has no interest in seeing. Even if you’re both at home, you don’t have to stay mushily entwined on the sofa. Watch your own TV, listen to a podcast, make your own food if you want. As long as you stay communicating with one another, this kind of approach can be key to not feeling stifled.
Allow yourself some breathing room from parenting
People can often feel like they have to give everything to their kids and centuries of gender conditioning means this pressure lands more heavily on women. Of course, when they first arrive, babies do demand a lot of energy and attention. But at a certain point, it’s okay to step back from the relentless churn of baby-related tasks. In fact, it’s beneficial. You can’t do what you do best without allowing yourself some breathing room and regaining a sense of who you are outside the context of your little one(s).
This aspect of being positively selfish is much easier said than done. But essentially, it’s about getting your partner and others close to you firmly on-board to share the load. You are allowed time out on your own regularly and should encourage yourself and each other to do that. Go for a bike ride or an evening swim. Swing by a farmer’s market and browse entirely alone. Head to a nearby exhibition you’ve been wanting to see for ages. Whatever it is, you might not feel it at first, but it’s good to get into that habit of enjoying the things that drive you or that you truly love outside the context of work and family obligations.
Do question the power dynamic of your relationship
Being positively selfish means constantly challenging the parameters of your relationship to check your interests are being upheld. If that sounds a bit clinical, consider how easy it is for your own desires to be eroded in the name of compromise. In relationships, we constantly give ground and make concessions for the sake of keeping the peace. But really, it’s not your job to be a peacekeeper or have a sunny, happy relationship all of the time. Instead, a good relationship is always evolving; you should be holding one another to account as a natural part of this process.
You also need to continually question the power dynamic of your relationship and whether the division of labour is fair. Some things are not worth a row but even petty gripes can easily snowball into large, stormy resentments. It’s really worth asserting what it is that makes you happy (or not) and express it nice and clearly. If that leads to arguments, so be it. But the ideal would be to hold a calm conversation. What you want or need will not always tee with what your partner wants or needs. Robust discussions and collaborations on a regular basis can only be a good thing when it comes to finding a balance and affirming who you are as an individual.
Travelling alone gives you the chance to be who you want to be
By far one of the most satisfying ways to be positively selfish in your relationship is to hit the road by yourself. Travelling alone gives you the rare opportunity to be exactly who you want to be – and do what you want without answering to anyone. However independent your relationship, there’s likely some things that you’ve forgotten you enjoy doing alone.
By heading abroad for a week or two, you can remind yourself of who you are outside the confines of your relationship. You prove to yourself what you’re capable of without always having someone by your side. It’s powerful stuff indeed. And rather than looking inward to your partner the whole time, you’ll meet a whole load of new people; a proven happiness habit that we tend to fall out of as we get older.
If you don’t like the idea of going completely alone, you can always join a group of like-minded solo travellers for an adventure somewhere new. By taking this leap into new frontiers without a loved one, you can return to your relationship refreshed and revived. In a world where things can get a little same-y, it’s a beautiful wake-up call.
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Images: Flash Pack