Is selfishness ruining your relationship?

·4 min read

Are you a selfish partner?

Before you answer, keep in mind there is a difference between being selfish and being labeled as “selfish” because our actions do not please or benefit someone else. If you find you lack consideration for another person, you're likely being selfish. In a relationship, being selfish means being solely occupied with oneself and putting very little consideration into what the other person, feels, thinks, wants or needs.

There are many reasons why someone might be selfish, here are a few:

  • They may feel entitled to people's attention.

  • They may have grown up with selfish caretakers.

  • They have been single for a long time and are scared to lose their independence in a relationship.

  • They may have been hurt in the past and are trying to protect themselves (especially if in a previous relationship they gave too much and received too little).

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How to tell if you're being selfish

The tricky part about being selfish is that sometimes we are not even aware that we are doing it. Besides asking our partner if we exhibit selfish behaviors and what we can change to make them feel more seen and appreciated, it can also be helpful to evaluate if we are doing any of the following things:

Only thinking about ourselves. If we are in a relationship but only think about our own desires and needs, we are being selfish. If we always have to be “right” or have the final say during decision-making, we are constantly asking the other person to give up on what they want or, worse, what they may need. When we are preoccupied thinking about ourselves, we have no space to listen to what the other person has to say or really consider opinions that differ from our own – we're exhibiting selfish behavior. Lastly, if we are solely focused on our own happiness, chances are, we are not thinking about theirs.

Not taking responsibility. This avoidant behavior may cause our own discomfort to subside, but it doesn’t provide our partner with an apology that they may deserve. In some contexts, by not taking responsibility, the other person may feel forced to take it upon themselves (this frequently happens in abusive relationships).

Setting unrealistic expectations. There are several unrealistic expectations that commonly accompany selfishness.

  • We may expect our partner to change in order to please us or be “who we need them to be.”

  • We expect our needs to always take precedence, even if they are disproportionate in magnitude. (For example, one partner misses visiting their sick mother at the hospital because the other had a hair appointment and took the car).

  • We expect to get by with minimal effort, while they are expected to solely focus on us and the relationship.

How selfishness can ruin your relationship

The common consequence of being selfish is that it creates an unhealthy one-sided relationship dynamic. In addition, our partners may start to feel resentful or disappointed by the relationship. It's not uncommon for relationships to end because of selfishness.

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Selfishness can be addressed; it’s a trait we can work on. If you find yourself exhibiting selfish behaviors it may be worth spending some time reflecting:

  • Am I worried my needs won’t be met if I focus more on my partner?

  • Did my caregivers exhibit selfish behaviors? What do I need to unlearn?

  • Do I believe relationships are a setting in which I can “win” or “lose”?

  • How can I make my partner feel more heard, seen, appreciated and supported?

When it's OK to be 'selfish'

I’ve encountered many people who have been labeled as selfish for setting boundaries, fulfilling their own needs and having standards.

It’s important to understand that taking care of ourselves and having realistic expectations is not a selfish act. For a healthy relationship to exist, we actually have to spend time focusing on ourselves, but this does not mean taking the other person out of the equation. If we are not in a position where we can pay attention to ourselves and the other, it may not be a good time for us to be in a relationship.

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Sara Kuburic is a therapist who specializes in identity, relationships and moral trauma. Every week she shares her advice with our readers. Find her on Instagram @millennial.therapist. She can be reached at

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Relationship advice: Are you a being selfish partner? How to tell