24 Hours of Unselfishness

Selfishness. They told me that is one of the top reasons why marriages fail. Really? Well, I don’t have to go to a conference to learn that. Actually, selfishness is at the root of the failure of any type of relationship.

If you didn’t know already, you and I are selfish. Really? How do I know? Well, for starters, one of the first words we learn to say as babies is… No, it’s not “daddy” or “mommy.” It’s “no!” normally while pounding the high chair… And why is that? First of all, those are easy sounds to learn. Secondly, it is our way of saying, “I am not happy,” or “Do it my way!”

When we toddlerize, we have to learn to share our toys. This has to be reinforced again and again. When we enter the pre-human phase (teenagers), at least in the U.S., kids must have separate rooms.

You would think we would have learned by the time we reach adulthood. But no, in some ways, we get “smarter” in perfecting our selfishness. Now we are selfish and we don’t care! We have a hard time admitting we were wrong. And telling our spouse s/he was right? Never in a million years! We focus on the other person’s mistakes and shortcomings and tend to forget our own. We cover up when we mess up and broadcast when our spouse makes even a little mistake. We may not broadcast it to the world, but we do it inside our houses, sometimes while pounding the kitchen table!

There is more. Many marriages are ruined by the insistence of one spouse to pursue his or her career in spite of the other person’s objections or concerns. Selfishness leads to emotional or physical withdrawal and isolation. Eventually we only have to put up with ourselves because the other person is no longer home, whether physically or emotionally.

But there is good news: your marriage doesn’t have to be ruined by selfishness. Here is what we all need to do.

1. Be aware of your own selfishness. Don’t try to deny it, hide it, divert it or make light of it. Acknowledge it and work to remedy it.

2. Every week, think about something you will do where you will purposefully put the other person ahead of your own needs. Whether it is forfeiting that NBA game and going to buy groceries because your wife is too tired, or skipping your Zumba exercise class that you cannot miss just to be there when your hubby comes home. Whatever it is, plan ahead and do it. Don’t expect anything in return either. Just do it.

3. Work hard to treat your spouse the way you always tend to treat yourself. There is nothing wrong with a little love of self. In fact, a sober dose of self-love is a sign of a well-adjusted soul. That’s why Jesus said we should love our neighbor “as we love ourselves,” and Paul said that husbands should love their wives “as their own bodies.” Then he goes on to make the obvious point: “After all, no one (he is talking about a healthy person here) ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body…” Self-love is only bad when it becomes the focus of our existence.

4. And here is the hardest challenge: pick a 24 hour period where you will resolutely seek to be free from any selfish acts. This could be not taking the only available parking space close to the store and letting the older lady behind you grab it or it could be buying coffee for your whole staff. If you do this, you will truly discover the things you do that could be considered selfish. Take notes of the times you are behind the wheel. Pay close attention to meetings where you can’t wait to make a point and cut other people mid-sentence. Some of the most unselfish acts you will do will be related to listening more, giving focused attention, and acting like the person across from you is the most person in the world.

Ultimately, though, it is the unselfish acts you will do to your spouse that will count the most. If they go unreciprocrated and you say nothing, then you’ve really passed the selfishness test. Eventually, the other person will catch on.

Ivanildo C. Trindade