"always Put your spouse’s needs before your own"
We’ve all heard this relationship advice. Initially, it seems really helpful. It’s the selfless thing to do, right? However, the more hear this advice, the more I wonder, “Does it actually work?”
People try to explain this philosophy by saying things like, “Well, if you put your spouse’s needs first and he puts your needs first, then both of your needs will get met.”
That makes a lot of sense... until it doesn't.
What if I think my husband needs something and he really doesn’t? What if I misinterpret what he needs or fail to recognize it? What if my husband doesn’t understand what I need?? What if I do all these things and he doesn’t return the favor?
Do you smell that?
I'm getting whiffs of unmet expectations and resentment...
A few days ago, Nate and I played a collaborative board game with my sister and her husband called Forbidden Desert. The premise of the game was that we were stranded in a desert and needed to work together to escape before we died of thirst or got buried by a sandstorm
You know you want to join our game nights!
We each had a canteen card with notches that indicated how much water we had. Every time we flipped the card that said, “Sun Beats Down,” we lost a portion of our water. If one person’s water got below zero, they would die of thirst and we’d lose the game.
We could share water with each other to assure that no one got dangerously low. In order to do that, the person giving water would lose one portion, and the person receiving water would gain one.
At one point in the game, we were all down to "zero" on our canteens. No one could share water with each other, or they'd die of dehydration! Then, the dreaded “sun beats down” card was flipped, and we all simultaneously died of thirst….
Picture you and your spouse in this desert. You want desperately to help him, but as hard as you try, your canteen is empty. You can’t give him anymore water, because you have none to give.
Have you ever been so frustrated that you’ve spent all day cleaning the house, cooking meals, folding laundry, “putting your spouse’s needs first,” and just couldn’t do it anymore? Have you felt like you do so much for others and no one does anything for you? Have you had moments where everything your spouse did (and didn't do) made you want to rip your hair out?
Your canteen was empty.
Telling people to always put their spouse's needs first is a recipe for DISASTER.
You can't adequately help anybody when you're running on empty. The littlest things become way too hard to handle, and petty fights and arguments ensue.
That doesn't sound fun for anyone involved.
What's the better alternative?
Take responsibility for yourself.
Fill your life with things that bring you satisfaction and joy. Do what needs to be done to ensure your own needs are being met.
Laura Doyle, author of the book The Surrendered Wife, suggests creating two lists to help you fill your canteen. One list consists of things that you love to do. This could be getting a pedicure, playing sports, having a girl’s night, reading a book, getting outside, playing with your kids, etc.
The other list consists of things that you don’t necessarily enjoy doing, but feel satisfaction and joy when they are done. Things like doing the dishes, exercising, mowing the lawn, paying the bills, going to work to earn money, making the bed.
After creating these lists, make sure to put at least three of these things into your daily schedule – preferably a mix from both lists.
By doing these things every day, you are ensuring that your own canteen is getting filled.
Sometimes, there are needs that only your spouse can give you. When this is the case, make sure that you vocally ask for them. It's your job to give your partner everything they need to make it easy for them to give you what you need.
Here are some examples.
If you want your husband to take out the trash, ask him! And then when he does it, show gratitude for his efforts and let him know how happy it makes you when he takes out the trash. This appreciation will give him motivation to continue taking out the trash for you.
If you want to have sex with your wife that night, tell her! And then do everything you can to take some things off of her plate so she can relax and get in the mood. Ask her what she needs from you in order for her to give you what you need.
Let’s be honest… there will be days when your partner is feeling lousy, overwhelmed, sick, or not themselves (and vice versa). They might be taking more out of their own canteen than they are putting in it. If you work on keeping your own canteen full, it will be easier to give freely to your spouse when they are running a little low.
The truth is, nobody is responsible for making you happy but you. And you are not responsible for making someone else happy. Being happy is a choice everyone has to make for themselves.
There’s something awesome that happens when your own canteen is full. You stop worrying so much about when your partner is going to fill it for you. You take the focus off of your own needs and you’re more free to help your partner when they need it.
The more you ensure that your own needs are being met, the more selfless and loving towards others you can be.
What do you think of the advice to “always put your spouse’s needs first?” Do you agree with it? If yes, what does it look like in your life? Do you have any marriage myths you’d like me to debunk in future articles? Let me know in the comments!