If you've ever wondered, "Am I selfish?" you're not alone— it can be really difficult to judge how self-absorbed we're being. And to be honest, everyone I know has been really selfish at times, myself very much included. When work is crazy, when you're feeling low, when stress levels are high, lots of situations can bring out the selfishness in us. And it can do some real damage to our relationships, especially if our partner starts to notice and feel neglected.
Now, a certain amount of selfishness can be really healthy— and even make us better partners. "Our willingness to engage in a compassionate and fearless relationship with ourselves sets the stage for our intimate relationships, helping us to be trusting, trustworthy, engaged, and empowered in love," Dr. Alexandra Solomon, licensed clinical psychologist and author of Loving Bravely: 20 Lessons of Self-Discovery to Help You Get the Love You Want, tells Bustle. But it's sometimes hard to tell when self-protection and self-care crosses a boundary. You need to be willing to admit that you may have become more self-absorbed without realizing it even happening.
First things, however, is to get a good overview of the situation. Here are some helpful steps to take:
1. Listen To Your Partner
First off, depending on your partner, it may be a big deal that they're bringing this up. It could have been brewing for a while. So let them get everything off their chest, before you jump on the defensive. Even if they're a little ranting or rambling, give them some room to let it happen.
2. Assess Your Behavior
Before you say anything, try to do a quick assessment. Have you been selfish? Or are you just acting normally, but your partner is having a hard time with it or being overly critical? It could easily be either, so you need to be honest with yourself. “Taking time for ourselves may seem selfish, as though we're avoiding our partner,” clinical hypnotherapist, author and educator Rachel Astarte, who offers transformational coaching for individuals and couples at Healing Arts New York, tells Bustle. “In reality, brief periods of solitude recharge our soul batteries and allow us to give even more to our partners and to the relationship itself.” But you need to decide for yourself what's really been going on.
3. Explain Your Behavior
Without getting defensive or angry, explain your point of view. Maybe you were seeing your behavior as necessary — or not really think about it all — but now you can see why it was hard for your partner. "The best thing you can do if your partner has a problem with your need for time on your own is to sit down and make your needs known," relationship therapist Aimee Hartstein, LCSW tells Bustle. "Don't feel guilty and don't apologize. Explain that you love your partner and just because you need to do things on your own shouldn't take anything away from them or your relationship." It's a tough balance between being open but not backing down.
4. Be Open To Criticism
Despite the best of intentions, it may be that you've been behaving in a way that you didn't even realize. You need to find a compromise, but that's going to take responsibility for your partner feeling the way they are now. Even if you didn't mean to — even if you didn't actually do anything wrong — your partner is feeling this way for a reason and you need to own your role in that.
Of course, there's always the chance that your partner is controlling or is gaslighting you. That's why being self-aware and giving on honest critique of you're behavior is so important. If it's part of a larger pattern of emotional manipulation, then you need to own it and face up to the fact that you're in an unhealthy relationship. But if you have been neglecting your partner, you need to deal with that too.
It can hard to be judge our own level of selfishness — partly because we so often see our own behavior as totally justified, even when it's not. But try not to get defensive and assess the situation instead, it's the best way to get through it.