In the healthiest meaning of love and sex, both involve “compromise,” but not of the kind inherent in any moral code of sacrifice or selflessness.
Sacrifice indicates that you are being dishonest with yourself and with your partner. For example, if a wife tells her husband: “Yes honey, I’ll do whatever you feel like doing today — it doesn’t really matter to me.” The word “really” is often a tip-off of self-dishonesty. In this case, the woman may indeed have a strong preference, but she is refusing to be assertive and state her preferences for the day’s activities. Such dishonesty breeds resentment. In another example, a woman tells her partner that it’s fine for him to choose a particular career even though it means that she shifts her career goals. She is very unhappy with this choice, but she doesn’t say so — she is sacrificing. At some point, her built up resentment will break through the floodgates. Her husband, feeling that everything is fine will someday hear her scream: “After all I sacrificed for you…the least you could do is…” Sacrifice, the giving up higher values for lesser values or non-values, breeds dishonesty and resentment.
Selflessness is a recipe for a lousy relationship. You often hear one partner say, “I want nothing for myself…all I want to do is to make you happy.” If the partner responds “I too am selfless and want nothing for myself. I just want to please you.” You can see how humorous this is. Neither can please the other because the other doesn’t want “anything for myself” — the other professes that he or she doesn’t want to be pleased — that would be “too selfish.”
Some people use the term selfless in contrast to the “me only” type of brute — the controlling person who doesn’t want a mutual relationship in which both partners work within a rational framework to both get their needs met, using open, non-sacrificial compromises when conflicts arise. The “me-only” person, by contrast, wants a slave as a partner. I call such partners “bulldozers.” They demand that their needs be met apart from any concern for their partners. If the partner doesn’t comply, this bulldozer launches a character assault on him or her.
Neither the selfless person, nor the “me-only” person makes a good partner. Only the self-valuing, rationally selfish person is ready for healthy romance. Such self-valuing individuals genuinely love their partners. Compromise becomes, not a resentful sacrifice, but a trade in which both partners negotiate fairly and well. For example, if the wife wants to spend the day catching up on computer work and the husband wants to take a romantic country ride together to see the fall foliage then there are several ways they could negotiate a compromise.
First they both need to be honest with one another about their preferences. Passive individuals self-sabotage by not allowing themselves to state what they want.
Second, it’s important to state preferences with respect for the partner you love, not in an attacking manner.
So if the husband stated his preference by saying: “You live at that damn computer — can’t you get out and have a life!” his aggressive approach would not be setting the stage for a compromise, a win-win solution. But if he said, “Honey, I know you would feel great getting your computer work done today. It’s such a lovely day and I picture taking you out for a relaxing ride — to the soup and salad café that we love so much. It might invigorate you to take a break from the work.” He’s much more respectful of his wife in this case. Then they can openly negotiate with many possible satisfying outcomes. For example: 1) we stay home today but take tomorrow off and take a day trip, 2) we spend the morning home and get work done, then take off this afternoon for a country ride, or 3) we hire someone to do the computer-work and go on a romantic getaway to the Bahamas J.
In the book, Couple Skills, by McKay, Fanning, and Paleg, the authors recommend classic ways of compromising. Some of these are:
1) “I’ll cut the pie, you choose your piece first.”
2) Take turns.
3) Do both, have it all.
4) Trial period for one or the other.
5) My way when I’m doing it (e.g., my radio station when I drive) and your way when you’re doing it (e.g., your radio station when you’re driving).
6) Part of what I want with part of what you want.
These methods do not involve passive sacrifices, nor do they involve attacking the other person’s character. They involve self-respect and respect of the other person.
Concluding Practical Advice
I’ll conclude with some advice about seeking a healthy romantic relationship.
The most important piece of advice is to value yourself. Make yourself into a person you admire and whose company you enjoy. Some people mope around saying “I need a guy (or woman) to make my life interesting; I’m bored with myself.” The primary problem here is not the lack of a partner, but that this person is bored with himself or herself. Discover what you love in life, set goals and enjoy pursuing your dreams.
If you have achieved self-esteem, if you value yourself, then rejections won’t be as difficult. You won’t feel as though you are worthless if someone stands you up, or returns to a past girlfriend or boyfriend whom they prefer over you. You feel good about who you are. This will give you the ability to date different individuals without feeling depressed after each “failure.”
If you value yourself, you will spend the time and energy needed to find a romantic partner. Like any important value, sitting home chomping on popcorn in front of the tube is less likely to bring you success than actively searching for a partner. If you value yourself, you won’t accept someone with an inferior character.
You will also be motivated to learn the skills to communicate well with a potential partner, to ask the difficult questions (e.g., regarding past sexual history or whether the person has a mystical or rational foundation), and to find mutual activities to enjoy together.
Know what pleases you sexually and why. Listen carefully so that you learn what pleases your partner. Don’t try to impose activities on your partner that he or she doesn’t like. Experimentation is fine as long as it is mutually agreed upon.
At all costs, enjoy your own sensuality during sex and avoid a duty approach to it. If you don’t like something, understand why and don’t force yourself to repeat it.
Sex in a romantic relationship can be your greatest form of pleasure. Sex is an end in itself. Pursue it greedily and rationally.