The Selfish Spouse/Relative

" The great danger for family life, in the midst of any society whose idols are pleasure, comfort, and independence, lies in the fact that people close their hearts and become selfish," John Paul II.

Selfishness has been described as one of the major enemies of married love and of love within the family. This description is psychologically correct because selfishness, while falsely appearing to have many benefits, actually turns the person in upon himself/herself, thereby interfering with healthy self-giving which is essence of marital love.  Subseqently, this personality weakness creates significant pain and suffering in marriages and families. It is a major cause of marital anger, permissive parenting, addictive behaviors, infidelity, separation and divorce. Unless it is uncovered and addressed, selfishness will lead spouses to treat loved ones as objects and not as gifted persons.

If you would be interested now in watching my selfish spouse 90 minute webinar, please feel free to go to www.maritalhealing.com/maritalwebinars.php.  Also, I have contributed to a five part DVD series, Narcissism: The Epidemic of Self-Infatuation, on this major source of marital unhappiness that is available at www.lhla.org.

The book, The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement (2009) by psychologists Jean Twenge and W. Keith Campbell, should be required reading in marital enrichment and pre-marital programs, in precana programs and in high schools.  Spouses, parents, educators and clergy would benefit from this description of the epidemic and of the severe damage it causes.  Aaron Kheriaty, M.D. in the department of psychiatry, at University of California, Irvine, has written an outstanding review of The Narcissism Epidemic and of this conflict.

Dr. W. Keith Campbell's 2014 article, Are we more narcissistic than ever?, would also benefit couples under stress because selfishness is often an unconscious cause of numerous marital difficulties.

Jean Twenge's 2007 study of almost 17,000 college students revealed that two thirds of them scored high on a measure of narcissism which was an increase of 30% over the past twenty years. Dr. Twenge commented that narcissistic people are more likely to have romantic relationships that are short lived, are at greater risk for infidelity, lack consistent emotional warmth, exhibit game-playing and dishonesty and manifest overly controlling and violent behaviors.  These behaviors in young adults are often fostered by a highly prevalent permissive parenting style.

Fortunately, the personality weakness of selfishness can decrease by growth in a number of virtues, particularly generosity.  A 2013 study by Dew and Wilcox found a correlation between high marital quality and high levels of generosity. Couples reported higher levels of marital quality both when they give and when they receive generosity within their marriages. 

The New Psychological View of Marriage and Seflishness

The newer, prevailing cultural view of marriage differs radically from the traditional, Catholic understanding of the sacrament of marriage and contributes to the growth of selfishness in spouses and of marital conflicts.   Dr. Brad Wilcox, the director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, has written about these contrasting views of marriage, "In the new psychological approach to marriage, one's primary obligation was not to one's family but to one's self; hence, marital success was defined not by successfully meeting obligations to one's spouse and children but by a strong sense of subjective happiness in marriage -- usually to be found in and through an intense, emotional relationship with one's spouse.

The 1970s marked the period when, for many Americans, a more institutional model of marriage gave way to the "soul- mate model" of marriage.  Of course, the soul-mate model was much more likely to lead couples to divorce court than was the earlier institutional model of marriage. Now, those who felt they were in unfulfilling marriages also felt obligated to divorce in order to honor the newly widespread ethic of expressive individualism, www.nationalaffairs.com/publications/detail/the-evolution-of-divorce.

This newer psychological view of marriage predisposes couples to selfishness, the major enemy of marital love and a lack of fulfillment and happiness that is found in self-giving.  Subsequently, serious marital conflicts regularly develop. 

The church presents marriage as a sacrament that is supported by the Lords love and grace and requires cheerful self giving, and openness to children according to God's will, and sacrifice.  John Paul II  has enriched the understanding of marital love in Love and Responsibility. He presents in his writing the importance of giving to romantic love, to the marital friendship, and to betrothed love, which includes, but is more than sexual intimacy. In betrothed love the spouse surrenders himself/herself to the other so that the spouse no longer thinks primarily "me" but "we."

This oneness and flow of love between a husband and wife in some ways is to model after the love and the openness within the heart of God, the Trinity.  John Paul II wrote, “God is revealed in the communion between man and woman, for this communion images the love that God himself is.”  Letter to Women,7.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church has an excellent section on marriage which can be enormously helpful in understanding marriage and in  protecting spouses and children from the harmful effects of selfishness.

The Recognition of Selfishness

The recognition of the character weakness of selfishness is a struggle for most people. Fortunately, selfishness can be identified and resolved through hard work, growth in a number of virtues, particularly generosity and self-denial, and faith when appropriate.  Unfortunately, many spouses and children develop a sense of superiority and pride from their selfishness which blocks their willingness to address this serious personality weakness.

Selfishness Checklist

Please answer by identifying the appropriate number which applies to you and to your spouse using this scale on the following selfishness checklist:

0 - Never | 1 - Very Little | 2 - Moderately Often | 3 - Very Often

Grandiose thinking
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Insensitive to loved ones
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Excessively angry when everything doesn't go as one wants
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Exaggerated sense of self importance
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Very sloppy
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Strong sense of entitlement
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Expects automatic compliance with his or her expectations
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Manipulative
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Uses others to obtain one's ends
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Treats spouse as a sexual object
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Critical of others
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Lacks empathy
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Unwilling to identify with the feelings and needs of others
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Acts like a spoiled child
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Always demands to have one's own way
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Talks about oneself excessively
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Failure to attend to the needs of others
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Is often envious of others
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Believes that others are always jealous of him or her
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Constantly looking at one's reflection
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Tends to avoid responsibility in some major area of life
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Lacks empathy for others
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Lazy
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Failure to care about important matters
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Acts helpless to get one's way
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Clings to the sick role
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Refuses to give oneself romantically or sexually
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Blames others for failures or shortcomings
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Doesn't enjoy giving
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Seeks to be center of attention
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Financially not supportive
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Tries to turn all conversations upon oneself
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Substance abuse
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Plays excessively to avoid responsibility
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Excessive eating
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Always portray self as the victim
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Explosive anger
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Resents doing work in the home
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Obsessed with physical appearance
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
When something goes wrong it's always someone else's fault
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Requires excessive admiration
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Exaggerates physical and emotional symptoms as a way to control
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Lack of genuine interest in others
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Uses others sexually
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Very controlling
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Doesn't pay attention to the person he or she is talking to
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Expects self to be perfect
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Tends to seek power or influence over others
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Lack of temperance
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Reacts to criticism with strong anger
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Unwilling to cook or care for the home
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Goes on own vacations
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Financially irresponsible
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Unwilling to express appreciation to others
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Ruin birthdays or special family events
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Limited openness to children
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Insists on using artificial contraceptives
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Not sensitive to a child's desire for a brother or a sister
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Chooses to divorce rather than to work on marital difficulties
Never Very Little Moderately Very Often
Narcissism Total:

A score below 30 indicates a low level selfishness; a score of 30 to 60, a moderate level of selfishness and above 60 a high level of selfishness.

Origins of Selfishness

Now please identify possible causes of selfishness from childhood and adult life in your spouse and in yourself.

Childhood

  • Failure of parents to correct selfishness in children
  • Overly indulgent, permissive parents
  • Modeling after a selfish parent or relative
  • Modeling after selfish peers
  • Failure of parents to set reasonable expectations for a child
  • Allowing the child to have his/her way
  • Parental overindulgence of children´┐Żs athletic activities
  • Failure of parents to encourage development of virtues in children
  • Enabled by teachers or mental health professionals

Adolescence

  • Lack of correction of selfishness by parents
  • Sense of entitlement
  • Use of pornography
  • Immodesty in dress
  • Treating others as objects, not as persons
  • Use of contraceptives

Adult Life