When a Self-Centered Marriage Isn’t a Bad Thing

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.

7 responses to “When a Self-Centered Marriage Isn’t a Bad Thing

  1. A fantastic article Lori! I think it’s a balance between loving yourself and loving your partner – focusing on yourself and your needs can be one step in the direction to a genuinely happy relationship. By making yourself happy you are then able to bring that positive energy back to your relationship, with the except of going overboard and being selfish. But at the same time, when you love someone you invest a part of yourself in them and can’t help but be selfless for them, and that in turn also brings happiness to the relationship. I think a balance between those two things can produce pretty great and lasting results!

    I’ll share this with my followers on Twitter and see what they think too 🙂


  2. Thanks so much! I think you’re exactly right. It’s hard to express this balance, and it’s not always easy to achieve. Thanks for sharing as well. Best to you.

  3. I totally agree and women are more prone to losing themselves in love anyway. It took a brief separation for me to learn the value of everything you’re saying. Now I sometimes vacation alone and everything. Funny: I was watching family guy one day and Luis was crowded around a group of men and the sexiest thing to them about her was that she had five hobbies. I thought it was hilarious. But yes me and my husband so much more enjoy each other as two whole individuals coming together as one. Plus, in doing so conflicts are less “world shattering”. Great post. Thanks.

    • Thanks for sharing your experience and lessons learned. Two whole individuals are indeed necessary for a happy marriage. Cheers!

  4. Pingback: Are You Focused on Productivity over Warmth in Your Family? | Marriage Gems

  5. I think Mr Runkel is using the word “self-centered” in a good (but not common) way. That is not to say he doesn’t have valid observations and points.
    Most readers will think of the pejorative and most commonly used meaning of the term “self-centered,” which is to say, “Engrossed in oneself and one’s own affairs; selfish.” Or, “concerned chiefly or only with yourself and your advantage to the exclusion of others. ”
    not on the other meaning
    “Independent, self-sufficient or centered in oneself or itself.”

    If you take the first meaning, you’ll be off base and maybe confused or upset. If you take the second meaning, you’ll be fine!
    It means being centered in yourself and not having to rely on others with regard to who you are. It does not mean you care only about yourself but that you are a strong (centered) individual.
    In order to be that you have to know yourself well.
    If you don’t know yourself, a bad thing will happen to you in life:
    You won’t be with the right person.
    You won’t know yourself well enough to make the best choices for yourself.

    For more on this Self-Knowledge business, look for me at The Daley Post.
    http:///www’thedaleypost where I write about self-knowledge

  6. Pingback: Are You Focused on Productivity over Warmth in Your Family? |

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