Recently two women, both of whom I admire, politely disagreed with each other in the comments of something I had posted to Facebook. By the time I noticed the discussion, it had been over for several hours, and I didn’t feel like starting it up again. If I had, this is what I would have said.
I think your disagreement is over semantics, which is not to say your disagreement is unimportant. Needs and wants are very different things. Thus I agree with you, Friend 1, that it’s unhealthy to tell people (especially women) to put their partner’s needs above their own. However, I agree with you, Friend 2, because I think you meant to say a good relationship involves both people putting each other’s wants above their own.
Needs and wants are not the same.
I’ve certainly fallen victim to equating the two. I’ve casually thrown around the term “needs” when I actually meant “wants.” But they are not the same.
I need to eat when I’m hungry. I want to eat certain foods when I’m hungry. (But I often choose to prepare food that Dan wants to eat).
I need to get at least 7, preferably 8, hours of sleep each night. I want to stay up late and sleep late. (But I try to go to bed early with Dan so we can fall asleep together).
I don’t put my husband’s needs before my own. In fact, I try very hard to prioritize my health above literally everything else in my life. My health includes my physical, mental, and emotional health. My overall health is my greatest need.
This is not selfish.
If you’ve ever traveled by plane, then you know the spiel the flight attendants give at the beginning of the flight. If the oxygen masks drop down, you need to secure your own mask before helping anyone else with theirs.
I cannot help my husband with his needs or his wants if my needs are unmet.
And this might piss some people off, but I’m categorizing sex as a want. Then again, I also consider relationship “needs” like conversation, date nights, and hugs as wants. Very important wants, to be sure, but no one ever died from lack of sex or conversation.
Last year I wrote a blog post called “Actually, Marriage is for (Both of) You.” I wrote, “Marriage shouldn’t be selfish. I can dig that.” But then I pointed out that this idea of “selfishness” is often an unrealistic standard unevenly applied towards women.
I’ve had to fight against my own internalized sexism of wanting to live up to some antiquated feminine ideal of the Angel in the House. Sacrificing your health for the sake of anyone else, even your spouse, is a terrible idea.
If you don’t have a chronic illness, you might not understand why I now so strongly differentiate between needs and wants. I have not always prioritized my health, choosing instead to placate others or put up with unnecessary stress due to misguided loyalty. That only led to more physical pain, more vomiting & diarrhea, and more unwanted weight loss. Stress is not good for anyone’s health, but it’s immediately detrimental to those of us with Crohn’s Disease.
Living that way is unsustainable. Putting everyone else’s needs (and wants) above your physical well-being can only lead to burnout–in a best-case scenario. For me, not prioritizing my physical needs can land me in the hospital.
I love my husband. I moved to Ohio for my husband (and if you know my aversion to cold weather, you know how big of a deal that was). I frequently prioritize my husband’s wants above my own.
As much as I love my husband, I have to prioritize self-care. I cannot put my needs second to his wants.
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Meet Brita Long: Christian feminist blissfully married to Dan Fleck for almost two years. Lover of Paris, pink sparkles, sensible shoes, manicures, and books. Fueled by hot tea and mimosas.
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Meet Charlene Maugeri: Christian, wife, fur-mom, nerd, blogger and much more! She uses her blog, Enduring All Things, to inspire young wives to keep God first and their husbands second in everything they do.
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What does self-care look like in your life?