How to Not Be Self-Centered in a Relationship

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You are a narcissist. We all are, to varying degrees. This does not mean that you cannot have a fulfilling relationship, and it certainly doesn't mean that you will be doomed to a lonely life. The good news is that being self-absorbed is common in the teen years through one's 20s, and most of us grow out of it. Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D., tells us, in her article, "A Day in the Life of a Narcissist" on the "Psychology Today" website, that this behavior begins to diminish as we get older and develop more interpersonal relationships, because our focus becomes more on others than ourselves. If it doesn't, however, you're not doomed -- there are proactive measures you can take to learn how to sympathize and respect your significant other.

Understanding Self-Centeredness

People who are self-centered in their relationships generally suffer from feelings of inadequacy, says Srini Pillay, M.D, in his article, "The Psychology of Selfish Lovers," featured on the "Psychology Today" website. He also tells us that selfish lovers are usually hiding something, often their perceived inadequacy, and they are afraid that giving will reveal their flaws. Self-centeredness is especially common in Western cultures, in which society emphasizes individuality from a young age, as stated by Nicholas Wade in the "New York Times" article, "Is 'Do Unto Others' Written Into Our Genes?"

Stepping Out of Your Bubble

Learning to reduce your selfish nature is not impossible. Plenty of guidelines, many of which you may already know but don't practice, can help. Becoming involved in a spiritual path, such as church, and really becoming invested in the community that it offers can help you to become involved with others. Learn to listen to others in order to build sympathy. Practice counting to 10 before responding to someone when you are chatting with them. This will allow you to think about what the other person just said, and it will give you time to think about how you want to respond.

Finding Balance in a Relationship

As you cultivate your giving side, it is important to maintain balance so that neither person is constantly giving or taking. As you may be experiencing right now, when one person in a relationship is too demanding, the other one may withdraw -- or lash out, creating conflict. On the other hand, when you are too selfless, you eliminate opportunities for your partner to do things for you to make you happy, says Lynn Harris in "Selflessness in Romantic Love," on There will always be some element of compromise in any relationship, and it is important to remember that sometimes you will have to give more, but at other times your partner will need to give you more. There should always be a balance, and it is up to you to decide what is healthy for yourself.

When Giving Becomes Martyrdom

If you expect your partner to just know what you want, then you are going to be let down every time. Of course, after you have been with someone for a long time, they will begin to know you and understand you on a level that borders psychic abilities, but that still doesn't mean that you don't have to tell them what you want. As Harris points out, when you don't communicate your wants and needs to your partner, it will lead to disappointment and resentment, because you will blame your partner for not fulfilling you. Selflessness sounds great in a relationship, but when it borders on martyrdom it is actually quite selfish, because you are expecting impossible things from your partner.