When I began to review the book The Self-Centered Marriage by Hal Edward Runkel, LMFT, I will admit to being turned off by the title. What could be worse marriage advice than to be self-centered? I think the author was attempting to provoke the reader into questioning commonly held preconceptions. Also, there’s a big difference between being self-centered in a negative way, and being focused on your own actions and reactions as a way to contribute to a better relationship. Thankfully, the latter seemed to be the intention of the book.
I won’t say I agreed with everything in the book, however. Runkel says the best thing you can do for your marriage is to become more self-centered, learning to focus less on your spouse and more on yourself…for the benefit of you both. However, there are some people I know—often myself included—who need to look outside their personal worlds a little more often. I believe some balance is needed here. However, I do agree with the author that by focusing on understanding yourself well, you can pursue your partner with your truest self.
Questioning commonly held misconceptions about marriage can be valuable, and realizing that you can’t change your partner, just your response to your partner, is also a useful insight. Another misconception Renkel shares is that a strong couple relies on common interests and compatibility. Not true, he says, as this is a foundation for a superficial friendship, whereas “reliance on personal integrity in the midst of constant change is the foundation for a deep, lasting marriage.” This is an excellent point, and one that couples would do well to remember when they feel they are drifting apart or losing touch. Integrity and commitment are much more critical than shared interests at a particular moment in time.
One more misconception is that conflict in a marriage is bad. I agree with the author that “in-your-face conflict is a better path to true intimacy than cold avoidance.” The key in conflict is to learn to keep your cool. Being emotionally reactive and immature doesn’t allow a positive outcome to the conflict. When we are angry and fearful, adrenaline flows. The blood supply to the problem-solving part of the brain is greatly reduced. Memory, concentration and rational thought are reduced. Runkel explains how to live with the “ScreamFree Approach” and pursue your deepest desires. Staying calm and connected can help you curtail arguments, identify and change dysfunctional patterns and improve your relationship.
One of the points I’ve written about frequently is that we can’t expect our spouse to “make us happy” and meet every need. Runkel tried to make this point by explaining that being self-focused rather than other-focused means you don’t expect your spouse to fulfill you and make you happy. Instead, he says each person must take full responsibility for his/her emotional needs. “It’s not your spouse’s job to validate you, to make you feel secure enough, sexy enough, respected enough, or loved enough for you to return the favor.”
That sounds controversial to me, and I question whether we aren’t there to help one another, particularly if we see there is a blind spot or self-esteem concern. However, he does speak of the need to serve one another, which I believe can and should include praising and verbalizing love and respect as well as desire for one another. It also includes acting in a generous way that you know will please your partner.
I’ll share more on this book and the need to focus on the self within marriage in tomorrow’s post.
What do you think? Does being more self-focused or self-centered help or hinder you in your marriage?
Lori Lowe is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring, true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages–from overcoming drug addiction to cancer, infidelity, religious differences, family interference and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in all e-book formats at www.LoriDLowe.com.
Photo by Ambro courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.