I vividly remember taking a drive with my Dad when I was home from college on a semester break. We were talking about qualities a potential spouse should possess. I was unmarried at the time, and I had a long list of traits I wanted in my ideal mate. My Dad said the most important thing a spouse should be is selfless. He taught me about being able to meet another person's needs even if you have to put aside your own desires.
After 15 years of marriage, I think Dad was right. If your marriage is struggling, or if you're working to keep it strong, selflessness may be the key. These six ideas will help you learn how to be selfless in your most important relationships.
1. Put your spouse's needs first
It may seem difficult to put your needs aside and focus entirely on your spouse's, but that trust and commitment is what will strengthen your relationship and allow you to feel and express love. This idea works best if both spouses are serving each other equally. My husband and I don't always function in this perfect state of homeostasis. But when we do, I feel like we are one.
It's hard to get out of bed with the children when I am just as tired as my husband, but I do it more often because he struggles with fatigue. He knows I sometimes need 15 minutes to myself after dinner to recharge for the homework and bedtime hours, so he sends me to my room to read. In these ways, and many others, we are putting our wants aside and being selfless.
2. Love unconditionally
One of the worst things you can do in a marriage is keep track of mistakes and weaknesses and use them against your spouse. If you are selfless, you love unconditionally. There are some behaviors that cannot be condoned, like any form of abuse, but small personality flaws and bad days should be overlooked. When you love unconditionally, you feel motivated to help your spouse be happy, succeed and feel loved by you.
3. Find ways to serve
If being selfless is new to you, it may take some practice. Start by finding small ways to serve your spouse. Take his turn doing the dishes. Make the bed in the morning before she does. Vacuum out his car or take the dog out in the morning so she can sleep in. Service promotes love and acts of service in return. It may take time for your spouse to reciprocate or for the idea to take hold, but keep trying. If you are in a good habit of service, continue.
4. Be a good listener
You can be selfless as you help your spouse emotionally. Be the person your spouse turns to as he vents about a bad day at work. Don't try to fix things for your wife, just validate her feelings and offer suggestions if she asks for them. When listening, be engaged. Try holding hands and looking at your spouse's face to read his expressions. Develop the quality of empathy so you can be more emotionally connected.
5. Learn to compromise
Being selfless does not mean being a martyr. You don't have to give up your favorite period drama to watch his action movies for the rest of your life. Sometimes, being selfless merely means compromising. My husband would rather not spend much money on furniture and décor for our home, but he knows it's important to me, so we set aside money for both. Years ago, I agreed to go out to a sushi restaurant because my husband liked it, and now I really like it, too.
Compromises bring you closer together. Cultivate the ability to compromise if you can't quite agree on something. Let go of the need to be right or always get your way.
6. Pray for strength and help
I have a firm belief that God wants me to be happy and for my marriage to be successful. Sometimes I feel like I exhaust most of my patience, love and emotional strength on my children, leaving little for my spouse. Praying for selflessness helps me have more love and energy to spend on my husband. People have a tendency toward selfishness. Praying to overcome selfishness is important as you strive to be more selfless.
No marriage is perfect, but every marriage (and relationship) can be made better by developing just one characteristic, selflessness. Implement these ideas and see how your marriage improves.