Am I Selfish In My Relationship? 5 Ways To Make Sure You're Loving Fairly

We’re always hearing that we could be having better sex, a better orgasm, or a better relationship. But how often do we hear the nitty-gritty of how we can actually better understand our deepest desires and most embarrassing questions? Bustle has enlisted Vanessa Marin, a sex therapist, to help us out with the details. No gender, sexual orientation, or question is off limits, and all questions remain anonymous. Now, onto today's topic: how to make sure you're not being selfish in your relationship.

Q: My partner is more of the caregiver in our relationship. He cooks, cleans, and loves to give. It works for us as a dynamic. I like to think that I give to him in other ways, but how do I know if I'm being selfish in the relationship and expecting too much? He hasn't complained, but I still feel self-conscious at times. It doesn’t help that all of our friends have more traditional relationships where the woman is the “homemaker.” I'm an only child, and sometimes I worry I'm being spoiled or selfish in the relationship by expecting him to keep doing certain things.”

A: Thanks for your question! First of all, lucky you! It sounds like you’ve found a wonderfully supportive partner. Let me point out that you said “it works for us” right in your email, so it sounds like your arrangement hasn’t caused any major issues between the two of you yet. It seems like you’re just stressed about the possibility of it eventually turning into a problem. On that note, here are five strategies for making sure your relationship stays balanced.

1. Remember That Different Things Work For Different Couples

When it comes to relationship rules and responsibilities, there is no one-size-fits-all solution for every couple. Making detailed chore charts will work for some couples. Having old school traditional gender roles works for some couples. Having no plan whatsoever works for some couples. Don’t expect that your relationship should function like your friends’. You guys get to make your own rules!

2. Talk About Your Roles

It’s great that you’re reaching out for a third opinion, but the most important person to talk to in this situation is your boyfriend. Sit him down and say something like, “I know that we’ve gotten into our roles of what we do for each other and around the house, and I want to make sure we’re both really thoughtful about whether or not those roles are working for us. It’s our relationship, so we get to make our own rules, and we can keep making adjustments as we go.” Then, try asking each other the following questions:

  • “What are the things that you do for me and for our relationship?”
  • “What are the things you like doing?”
  • “What things are you not so crazy about?”
  • “Is there anything you’d like more help with?”
  • “Is there anything you do that you think I don’t fully realize or appreciate?”
  • “Are there certain things you feel obligated or pressured to do?”
  • “Is there anything we could be doing differently? Anything you anticipate wanting to do differently in the near or distant future?”
  • “Are there any changes we should make to our roles?”

You can make changes to your roles at any time, but it’s also great to create some structure by having this conversation every six months or so. Give yourselves opportunities to check in about how things are going and make any necessary adjustments. Your boyfriend might be cool with doing all the cooking for now, but maybe he’d love a little more help in the kitchen in a few months when he starts a big project at work.

3. Discover Your Love Languages

I’m not a huge fan of a lot of pop psychology books, but one theory that I think is helpful is in Gary Chapman’s Love Languages. Chapman postulates that there are five distinct ways that people like to show and receive love. Chapman believes that we can use all of the love languages at one time or another, but that we tend to favor one particular method the majority of the time. The love languages are:

  • Words of Affirmation (saying nice things to our partner, giving compliments, writing notes)
  • Acts of Service (doing things for our partner, like chores, errands, things we know they don’t want to do on their own)
  • Receiving or Giving Gifts (these can range from lavish, like a surprise romantic getaway weekend, to simple, like a bouquet of freshly picked wildflowers)
  • Quality Time (we’re talking distraction-free time here, where all of your attention is focused on your partner)
  • Physical Touch (holding hands, cuddling, giving massages, sex)

It seems pretty clear that your boyfriend is an Acts of Service type of guy. (If you’re not immediately certain what your Love Language is, you can take the test on Chapman’s website.) The Love Languages can give you a great tool for recognizing and labeling the things that you each do for each other. Use the Love Languages model to talk about the ways you like to take care of each other, and the ways you like to be taken care of. You might surprise yourselves and learn something new about each other!

4. Try To Give Back What You Get

You’re lucky to be with someone who is such a great caregiver! Rather than fretting about all of the things he does for you, try to focus your energy on giving back to him in the way he gives to you. You may have certain things that you already do for him, like bringing home the majority of the bacon or surprising him with new and exciting date nights.

Identifying your Love Language can also help you brainstorm more ideas. For example, if you realize you’re a Physical Touch person, you can give him a mini daily massage, or a really great hug as a “thank you.” If you’re a Words of Affirmation person, try writing him a beautiful thank you card or poem.

5. Show Gratitude

One word that jumped out at me from your email was “expect.” It’s one thing to enjoy all the ways your partner likes to take care of you, but it’s another thing to expect them to do all of those things. Of course, we all have certain chores and tasks that need to be done, and we have to rely on our partners to help out. But you don’t want to get too stuck in your ideas of what your partner is supposed to do for you. You also want to give your partner flexibility if they’ve got a lot going on at work or are sick, and can’t handle their usual tasks. It’s very easy for expectation to cross the line into selfishness.

The regular check-ins will help manage this, but one simple way to combat expectation is to be really thoughtful about showing gratitude. Thank your partner for every little thing they do for you, even small stuff like taking out the trash or putting away the laundry. It might feel like overkill at first, but the truth is that humans love acknowledgment. We can’t get enough of it! A simple, “thank you for doing that. I really appreciate it” should suffice in most cases, but it can also be fun to surprise your partner with a big ol’ smooch, a little gift, or even a written card for the bigger stuff. Taking the effort to say thank you will prevent you from sliding into expectation territory.

Now get on out there and tell your man how thankful you are!

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