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Want Healthier Relationships? Learn To Be More Selfish With Your Time

How being selfish can make you a better person and partner

By: Crystal Jackson

The hours between when my children go to bed and when I do may be short, but they are precious. I am unapologetically selfish with them. I keep phone conversations to a minimum, texting is done purely at my discretion, and I relish those quiet hours where I do exactly what I want when I want.

As a lover, I am generous with both my time and attention. I have found myself too often staying up later than I would like for another minute of time with someone I love, precious hours of quiet or sleep selflessly given over. But a recent breakup gave me back those hours. I wasn’t happy to see them returned to me, but I have learned in the months that have followed to cherish them.

I believe that being selfish with our time makes us better partners. Everything about that likely sounds wrong, but I’ll elaborate. When we learn to prioritize our time in meaningful ways rather than out of obligation, we learn to cultivate self-care and healthy boundaries. We create healthy space for our own interests so that even if we enter a relationship, we’re able to maintain our own separate, fully-formed identities. We learn to value that time and space so much that we’re unlikely to just give it all up later.

Of course, there is a balance to this when we do choose to be in a relationship. We learn to balance time together with time to ourselves. Finding that balance requires talking about what we need, listening to what our partners need, and determining when to have time as a couple versus time as individuals. Intentionally creating time for both allows the relationship to thrive without anyone feeling like they had to give up their identity to accomplish it.

Being selfish with our time also helps us keep our standards high. We aren’t willing to give away our time and attention to just anyone. Instead, we look for connections that enrich our lives and are worthy of the little bit of free time worked into our days. We become more sensitive to which interactions drain our energetic resources and which leave us feeling peaceful, joyful, or renewed.

Cultivating that sort of selfishness with how we spend our times makes us better partners, friends, and even parents. We’re able to get what we need so that we can invest more of ourselves in our relationships. We can be fully present because we’ve had the space to be fully ourselves.

As a single mother, societal messages are clear. I’m supposed to be constantly self-sacrificing and going without so that my children can have more. For a while, limited income and resources required those choices. New school clothes for them might have meant that I did without new clothes for another season in favor of secondhand. But now I look at parenting differently. My children have all that they need and more, and to be a better mom, I make sure that I allocate time and attention to my own needs as well. When I have time free of parenting duties, when my household is asleep or otherwise engaged, I can be selfish with my time.

There’s a negative connotation to being self-centered, but shouldn’t we actually be the center of our own lives? Shouldn’t we make decisions based on what is best for us rather than what is best for someone who isn’t living our lives? For healthy humans, we can prioritize what we need for our lives without neglecting our family or other relationships. We can make sure that we’re taking good care of ourselves. By extension, it helps us take better care of others.

Dating often demands more of us than we’re willing to give. More time, more energy, more attention. Learning to protect our time and energy helps us put healthier boundaries around those interactions so that we can actually enjoy them. We don’t have to give into the demands to respond to another message or engage when we just need time to ourselves. We can be clear about our needs, protect our time, and date on our own terms. Doing this in the beginning will help us identify partners who also have their own lives and interests and won’t expect us to give up ours.

A healthy relationship will not ask us to sacrifice the very things that make us who we are. They won’t ask us to choose between ourselves and the relationship. That’s not love, and it’s not healthy. In a healthy, loving relationship, there is space to breathe and to be, an acceptance that sometimes we should guard our time so that we aren’t resenting the other person when we don’t get what we need.

I will one day go back to being a generous lover … just one who is sometimes selfish with my time, drawing those boundaries around my space, energy, and sleep, so that when I do engage, I can be fully present. Perhaps it’s not selfish at all to give fully to ourselves what we need when we need it. Maybe this is just how we become generous with ourselves.

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