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Self-ishness: The Key to Finding Lasting Love

Self-ishness: The Key to Finding Lasting Love“You complete me.”

It’s the most destructive idea about love in American culture. It may make for a good line in a movie. But the notion makes for very unstable relationships. It doesn’t work for either party.

When someone wants and needs their sweetheart to fill in the missing pieces in themselves, they are setting themselves up for emotional disaster. Being needy erodes one’s self-respect. Being seen as charmingly childish may work for a while, but at some point it will get old to find all your ideas and opinions being dismissed.

Wanting others to fill in our “blanks” is a delightful fantasy. Wouldn’t we all like someone else to do the hard work necessary for helping us grow up? But growing up by definition requires effort. Being a grownup is what is required for finding grownup love.

The need for superiority is equally corrosive to relationships. Those who look for a needy person in order to feel “needed” ultimately end up disappointed. Trading equality for control gives you all the responsibility in the relationship. A playmate is fun when life is all play. But when things get difficult — and life has a way always of making things difficult now and then — you’ll come to resent the person who has always looked to you to be the strong one. Such people can’t take a turn at carrying responsibilities and think it’s unfair if you ask them to do so.

Think of the workings of a fine road bike. Both wheels need to be balanced and aligned. When one wheel has a significant problem, or if one is overinflated, you’re in for a bumpy ride.

A relationship can work over the long term only if it is a partnership between two mature, complete adults who complement each other; who admire each other’s strengths and who respect themselves and each other. If you’ve been looking for the romance promised in chick flicks, where one person completes the other – stop. You may find a fling, but you won’t find a partner. It’s time to take a look at whether you are self-ish enough to be in a relationship for keeps.

Selfishness doesn’t have to mean self-centered, narcissistic, and getting yours at others’ expense. Instead, self-ishness can mean loving yourself enough to do the work to be a complete adult. When a person is self-ish in the positive sense, their self-esteem is high, they function well in the social world, they manage their responsibilities and they are sufficiently emotionally stable to be a loving and generous partner. Such people don’t need to be one-up or one-down to make a life with another. They are not threatened by another’s competence nor do they need someone to take care of them. They know that the basis of a healthy relationship is equality and respect.

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A Time to Reevaluate

If you are unhappily single on Valentine’s Day or if you are in a relationship that isn’t working, it’s a good time to do some honest reflection. Like New Year’s, Valentine’s Day can be a time to take stock and to resolve to fix some things that could stand fixing. Neither looking for a missing piece nor looking for control by filling in someone else’s empty places will give you the steady, lasting love you want. Taking steps to be more self-ish will.

How to be self-ish enough to find a lasting romance:

  • Remind yourself that you are lovable. If you don’t think you are worthy of love, no one else will. If you think you can only be loved by people who need you or by being needed, give it up. Focus on developing yourself. Start your day with a few quiet minutes to remind yourself of your best qualities. Write them down. Decide to put at least some of those qualities out there for the world to see every day.
  • Respect yourself enough to expect others to treat you with respect. If someone is disrespectful, calmly remind them that you expect to be spoken to respectfully, even when you may be wrong, even if you are in disagreement. Of course, that means being equally respectful of other people when they are wrong or in disagreement.
  • Work on any feelings of insecurity you may have. If you think the only people who will love you are those who are grateful to you; if you need to be in control in order to be secure; you have work to do. Instead of rescuing yet another person as an avenue to “love,” love yourself enough to focus on developing your sense of self-worth.
  • Love yourself enough to take care of yourself and to present yourself well. That means get enough sleep, eat sensibly, and get some exercise. Being attractive doesn’t take $40 fingernails, a $200 haircut or $500 shoes. Attractiveness that lasts beyond a first impression takes being healthy and put together.
  • Do your personal emotional work. If you have been told you are “too needy” or “too controlling,” take it seriously. Think about whether the comment was justified. Of course, sometimes people say such things in anger. But sometimes they are onto something — or part of something. If you don’t feel like you can be an equal partner with a person you see as your equal, you might want to consider some therapy to help you sort out why and what you can do about it.

Finding a soulmate is just that — finding a mate, a person who walks beside you. That person is not a person who needs you to fix them, nor is it someone who is invested in being the one to do the fixing. If you are looking for romantic love that lasts, be self-ish enough to expect and give love in equal measure.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

Self-ishness: The Key to Finding Lasting Love

Marie Hartwell-Walker, Ed.D.

Marie Hartwell-WalkerDr. Marie Hartwell-Walker is licensed as both a psychologist and marriage and family counselor. She specializes in couples and family therapy and parent education. She writes regularly for Psych Central as well as Psych Central's Ask the Therapist feature. She is author of the insightful parenting e-book, Tending the Family Heart.

Check out her book, Unlocking the Secrets of Self-Esteem.

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, M. (2018). Self-ishness: The Key to Finding Lasting Love. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 8, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Oct 2018 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Oct 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.