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SALT LAKE CITY — In this edition of LIFEadvice coaches Kim Giles and Nicole Cunningham share some great questions to ask yourself when there are problems in your relationship.
Lately, my wife has been acting very selfish and she gets upset if she doesn’t think I’m taking her needs into consideration when making decisions. For example, she asked me to reschedule an appointment so she could go with me. Well, I tried but when I called they didn’t have an appointment that would work with our schedules, so I had to keep the same one. When I explained the situation to her she instantly got upset and said that I wasn’t thinking of her and I only think of myself. I tried to do what she asked, but it wouldn’t work. I am truly considering her and her feelings, wants and needs. But she is always accusing me of not caring about her. I feel like I always have to watch everything I say and do, which of course gets me a little upset. I’ve tried not to respond in a negative way, but it seems like nothing works. I also feel like some of these reactions come from anxiety or insecurity in her, since not all of them come from my actions. Could anxiety lead to this kind of behavior? I would love any tips you have!
Yes, anxiety could absolutely lead to selfishness and let us explain why. Selfishness is actually a fear problem. We believe all bad behavior is driven by two basic core fears, we all battle to some degree, every day. The first is the fear of failure (fear of inadequacy) and the second is fear of loss (fear of being mistreated or not getting what you need).
Whenever you are experiencing these fears, your focus is on protecting, promoting and defending yourself. Fear makes us all selfish because it makes us feel unsafe or threatened. Most relationships are struggling because both parties feel unsafe, inadequate and unlovable at some level, and this fear is making them both overly focused on what they are or aren’t getting, which means the entire relationship is about getting and no giving is really happening.
Your wife sounds like she is functioning from a fear of loss state (and many of us are). We are afraid we will be mistreated and we are, therefore, seeing the world through what we call a “mistreated lens.” This means we subconsciously see mistreatment everywhere, even when it’s not really there. With this lens, anything that could possibly be seen as mistreatment will be seen that way.
You need to understand this, so you stop taking her fear of mistreatment so personally. It’s not really about you. It’s about her feeling generally unsafe in the world.
Here are some questions to ask yourself (or — even better — answer them together as a couple) that might help you get to the bottom of this and fix it.
- Are there things that happened to either of you in the past (even as a child) that made you see the world as an unsafe place? Did you experience loss, abuse, intimidation, or anything that could have made you feel generally unsafe in life?
- Can you admit that you might have a mistreatment lens and feel 'wrong done by' too often?
- Do either of you struggle with fear of not being good enough?
- Do you have fears around rejection, judgment, abandonment, or just feeling inadequate?
- Is there anything that happened in your past that might have made this fear bigger? (That’s not an excuse, just a reality.)
- Do you think you might have a need for a great deal of validation from others (especially your partner) to make you feel good enough?
- Have you, at any level, even subconsciously, made your partner in charge of making sure you feel validated, appreciated and wanted? Have you made them responsible for your self-worth?
- Are they failing at this and is this making you resent them? The truth is your partner cannot be responsible for something that is out of their control and how you feel about yourself is something you and you alone control. If you make your self-esteem their job, they will always fail. You must be responsible for how you feel about yourself and your life. If you aren’t happy or feel worthless or hard done by, you need to do something to fix that. We recommend some professional help from a coach or counselor. - Now, this question is crucial: Can you think of any payoff or benefit that you get, when you feel mistreated and are mad at the other person? Often when you cast another person as the bad one, it subconsciously makes you feel like the ‘good one’. If you have a lot of fear of failure you might need to see your spouse as the bad guy to make yourself feel better.
We know these could be tough to face, but this kind of thing happens in your subconscious mind, so, you are not purposefully doing it. It’s just the way human nature works sometimes, though that doesn’t make it OK.
Sometimes, the very bad behavior we see in another person is actually showing up in us too. This happens because we see the world as we are, and we can’t help but project our experiences onto others. For example, some people who are suspicious their partner is cheating do so because they have a wandering eye themselves. Because they have this, they assume the other person does, too.
This is why when any problem shows up in your relationship, you need to look at your behavior and thinking first. If you see your spouse as selfish and unthoughtful, instead of trying to fix them, work on being more thoughtful and unselfish to them. Most of the time, you get what you give.
So, if you spent less time looking for signs of selfishness and mistreatment, and spent more time being loving and giving, we believe you would start getting the love you want back pretty fast.
In order to do this, you have to get rid of your lack and loss mentality first though. It helps if you choose to see the world as a safe place. Choose to see life as a classroom and the universe as a wise teacher that is always sending the exact experiences you need to help you grow. Choose to see your partner as your perfect teacher and every issue, fight, flaw and failure as today's classroom to help you both grow.
We believe the key to a healthy relationship is for each person to work on their own fear issues, self-esteem and mindset about life. This is why we don’t let couples come to coaching together. We insist they each come alone and focus on fixing themselves. If they both do this, amazing change happens.
One thing that will really help your partner's fear issues is for her to get some help and change the way she sees herself and her life. We encourage you to support her to do this, not because you are trying to fix her, but because you want her to be happier.
You can do this.
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