Is there a specific partner in your relationship who is more selfish than the other? Do they realize it? I've been there — both as the selfish partner and the one who's giving way too much of myself.
One-sided relationships will sooner or later become unhealthy relationships. Selfishness is a big problem that maybe hides under the surface for a while. One that can sit there and fester until the next blow-out argument.
And the only way to address the problem and achieve a healthy balance of give and take is by being honest and talking about it.
I Didn't Even Realize I was Doing It
A little bit before COVID-19 hit, my long-term partner and I had a group of friends over for board games and booze. It wasn’t a huge party — maybe about ten people in our cozy little house — but we had some big fun.
I’d had my fair share of wine, but I thought it was a great night and fully worth the hangover. It wasn’t until the next day that I learned my live-in lover didn’t feel quite the same way. In fact, he was a little miffed with me. I was completely clueless as to what the issue could be, so he kindly filled me in.
“You were more affectionate with your guy friends last night than you were with me,” he said.
According to him, I hadn’t been showing him enough physical affection as of late. Not only was I neglecting his needs in our relationship by not giving enough, but I was also rubbing it in his face with my flirting. I was being a taker. An emotional vampire. Things felt worse than one-sided for him, and I’d hurt his feelings without even realizing it.
You know those ridiculous gender role stereotypes? The ones that serve absolutely no purpose other than to set unrealistic expectations and damage our romantic relationships? For example, the insanely jealous girlfriend type or the flirty guy who isn’t even aware he’s giving the other women in the group more attention than his significant other?
Well, apparently, my partner and I love to break through the wall of gender stereotypes by swapping the assumed roles, leaving chaos and confusion in our wake whenever we argue.
He’s often the jealous and insecure one, and I’m the overly-flirtatious “sparkle” guy (I’m referring to Sex in the City, when Carrie had to drag Mr. Big out for a movie premiere, and he ended up flirting with an attractive businesswoman, giving her the “sparkle” Carrie had been missing lately).
Really Listen to Your Partner
Listening is just as important as speaking up when it comes to healthy communication in a relationship.
Before getting automatically angry and defensive at my partner’s accusation, I made sure I thought carefully before I spoke. I wanted to take his complaint seriously and consider his feelings, even if I was pretty sure I had my own beef to pick with him.
This is the art of being mindful of giving as much as you take. Give your partner the time and effort to consider their feelings, even if you might disagree with their perception.
So there I sat, curled up in the corner on the couch, sipping water and feeling like the guilty party on trial as I racked my brain. I tried to recall what could be considered crossing any lines the night before — but I was coming up empty.
Was I a little touchy-feely with the boys? Yes. Was I giggly and flirty? Sure. But I hadn’t kissed anyone. I didn’t declare my love for anyone and promise to run away with them forever.
“I don’t get to see my friends as often as I see you,” I said after a moment.
I’m a mother. I work full time. I cook dinner, arrange schedules, pay fifty percent of the bills in the house and sometimes more. I like to let loose and have fun with my friends when I get the chance — I admit it.
“I get excited and affectionate with them — you know that. But I didn’t think I was offending you. I had no clue.”
I recalled linking my arm with my friend Darrin’s arm and leaning my head drunkenly against his shoulder. I remembered letting him take off my neon pink cardigan and wearing it. It looked hilarious stretched over his biceps and contrasting against his dark beard.
There was no rhyme or reason to our shenanigans. Darrin’s wife, one of my best friends, was right there with us, cracking up at our nonsense. Later, when I ran this conversation by her, she agreed that I was indeed affectionate with her husband and that she didn’t care one bit. “That’s how we all are,” she added. “We all flirt with each other.”
I asked my partner why he didn't say anything about it the night before. Why didn’t he ever speak up about my behavior being a problem? It was apparent he felt he’d been wronged. I was taking what I had with him for granted and “sparkling” for others.
He was longing for my public display of affection, and I wasn’t even aware that he needed or desired it. After ten years together, we’re not exactly glued at the hip.
The thoughts my brain threw at me next remained unspoken. I didn’t want to continue the conflict. But, for the sake of strengthening our relationship, I should have communicated my follow-up questions.
That was a mistake and a prime example of not being mindful of what I give to my relationship.
He hadn’t been giving any affection to me during our party either. I was there. He was there. Despite me showing other guests some love, my partner had plenty of opportunities. I’m his. I love him. I’m committed. So why didn’t he make any moves to be affectionate with me? Why was it all my responsibility? And why was it automatically my fault if neither of us took the initiative?
No matter if I’m flirting with friends — I literally would have swooned if my partner had walked right up to me, grabbed the back of my neck, and planted a long, slow kiss on me in front of everyone. It would have been spontaneous. Out of character. It would have made him sparkle.
Is One Person Doing All the Initiating?
The dynamics of your relationship don’t really matter. Whatever your gender — if the affection is all one-sided, uneven, and unequal, it’s going to become an issue at some point.
The only thing that’s going to help us in communicating our needs to each other. Because when you’ve been together for a long time, it’s easy to slip into a boring routine and not talk about what’s bothering you.
I like things to be fifty-fifty. I love to give affection, but I also love and need to receive it. I need both, and I need both of us to put in an equal amount of effort.
Sometimes I really wonder if one man can handle giving as much as I need. It’s a hot-button topic for my partner and me — one we’ve put on pause since the world has been turned upsidedown during the pandemic.
I’m considering couple’s therapy, which I think we’d both benefit from — especially because he’s so open and willing to talk through our issues whenever we need to.
Our saving grace is that we’re honest with each other. We’re both willing to talk when something is bothering us. We’re each willing to take action when something is going haywire in our relationship — like the feeling of neglect and one-sided affection.
If you have to carry the weight of giving all the affection, or planning all the dates, or showing all the thoughtful acts of kindness, etc. — approach your partner about your desire to be a true partnership.
Work together to address each other’s needs and create a fulfilling give-and-take relationship.
The first step is communicating — through words and actions.