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.
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
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.
- 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�s athletic activities
- Failure of parents to encourage development of virtues in children
- Enabled by teachers or mental health professionals
- 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