Recently I got some coaching with a very insightful, intelligent coach who has been working with people for 60 years. It was a life changing experience.
One of the most deceptively simple, yet profound things he told me was to never, ever make anyone else number one. “That spot,” he said, “should always be reserved for you.” He went on to say that people go around mistakenly thinking that they should put their partner first, but this leads to heartbreak and terrible relationships for several reasons.
The session was quickly over and I was left thinking about it for days afterward.
As I got to thinking about it, I realized that when you beautiful people email me with your relationship questions, the answer is almost never that you aren’t giving enough even though you often suspect that. Most of the time, you’re actually giving too much to a relationship and wondering why it’s not working. To date, I’ve never actually had to tell one of you that you needed to give more.
As simple an idea as it is to put yourself first, and I completely agree intellectually, I noticed my own personal resistance to actually doing it in my own relationships.
I’ve always used crappy rationalizations like “romance is being selfless toward someone else” or “if he’s happy, you’ll be happy” as I’ve made the choice countless times to put myself second, and it feels like crap. I’ve bent over backwards when the person I was with didn’t even ask for that—let alone actually want it. If you’re struggling with feeling happy and fulfilled with your life, maybe you’ve given yourself up too much like I have.
Let’s talk about the reasons why you should take your power back and make yourself number one.
1. You hand other people’s responsibility for their own happiness back to them.
Any relationship should only make up 25% of your happiness at MOST. Getting into the habit of changing to make other people happy only reinforces the mistaken idea that their source of happiness is external and teaches them that they should rely on you to make changes to suit them.
Now, making changes to suit someone else because you want to is one thing. But going against what you really want and changing to make someone else happy becomes terribly problematic.
You can rip yourself apart this way, and when it’s all over, they won’t respect you more or want to be with you more. You’re better off handing that personal responsibility right back to them even though it might seem hard or you might feel like you’re risking their disapproval. They’ll either accept your boundaries or they’ll leave you. Either way, if you settle for changing for them, you’ll eventually twist yourself into a pretzel and neither of you will really end up any happier.
2. Ugly selfishness is much different than healthy selfishness.
No one wants to be called selfish. It takes us right back to being told to share when we were five years old. And, as adults we should go to relationships to give.
However, you can’t give someone what you don’t have yourself. If you aren’t caring for yourself first, you can’t care for anyone else. It’s a little bit like the warning on airplanes to put your own oxygen mask on first before helping others. If you let yourself die, you’re not going to be much help to anyone else. You’re actually making it possible to help others by putting yourself first.
3. When you put yourself first, you remove the self-righteous tendency to become angry and resentful when you give too much or change to please someone else.
I think of this as “resentment-proofing” your relationship. If you give someone more than you’re willing to give for any extended period of time, you’re selling yourself out and you’re bound to deal with your own negative feelings about it sooner or later.
Putting themselves second is how people end up bottling everything up and then exploding later, saying that someone else didn’t appreciate them. It shows that they were giving and/or changing to get their partner’s approval and when their partner didn’t provide that in exactly the way they wanted, kaboom. If they had chosen to only give what they felt good giving, then they wouldn’t have this dormant, pent-up anger-reservoir volcano just waiting to explode.
4. You teach people how to treat you.
When you don’t honor your own needs first, you run the risk of letting someone else walk all over you. Selling yourself out risks both of your respect for you and this is a very slippery slope.
People don’t get treated like crap when they have firm, healthy boundaries and consistently honor their own needs. They get treated like crap when they whitewash what they really want and allow the other person to take advantage of them in little bits over time.
By the end of the relationship, they’re bent over backwards and they don’t realize how it happened. Unfortunately, it happened because they allowed it to happen gradually.
So, if you see yourself in this, let’s make the decision together to make ourselves number one. I’m working on it, and I know you will too.