Sometimes, you may find yourself in an unfulfilling relationship where you are always giving your all while getting nothing in return. What does psychology say about selfish partners? Selfish partners often suffer from feeling inadequate. These feelings of inadequacy cause them to feel ashamed. When they receive attention or care in their relationship, they feel comforted. But this relief doesn’t last long. The other partner continues giving with the hope that they will get something back from the receiver, but the selfish partner doesn’t budge.

For a selfish partner, sharing emotions or thoughts can make them feel out of control and threatened as they worry that the reason for their shame will be revealed to their partner and they will be rejected. Selfish partners are likely to find a partner who can tolerate a relationship that may be superficial and who will allow the selfish partner to stay in their unthreatened state where it feels like they don’t need to answer anyone.

Basically, being selfish means that a person only cares about themselves. It’s all about “me” in the relationship instead of “we.” The dynamic of this kind of relationship is that one partner always gives and the other always takes.

Where does selfishness come from?

Selfishness is common in all kinds of relationships. We hear many people talk about their friends being selfish, or their siblings or partners being selfish. In most cases, this selfishness is damaging the relationship. Sometimes, even when a person tries not to be selfish, they still act selfishly. Why is that?

Before we can answer that question, we need to understand human nature. All humans are selfish in one way or another, whether we seek activities that make us happy or are concerned with ourselves.  This kind of selfishness is okay. The problem with selfishness arises when someone does things for themselves without considering other people. For example, if you are making yourself happy at the cost of your partner’s comfort or needs, then you are being selfish in a way that damages your relationship.

So, what causes someone to be selfish? Professionals studying human nature have revealed that there are many reasons someone may behave in such a damaging manner. Let’s have a look.

Insecurities.When people don’t share their resources, whether physical or emotional, it’s often because they don’t believe they have enough of them, even when they do. As a result, they become insecure and feel threatened, thinking that if they give away what they have, they will be left with nothing. The insecurity of losing something can make them selfish.

Loss of control.Many people afraid of losing control. For example, if your partner believes that spending time on their job is better than spending time with you, they are likely to ignore your desires. They may be thinking that if they don’t spend that time on their job, they will fail and someone else will take their place. Thus, losing control can make someone selfish.

Childhood experiences.The way a person is raised has a strong effect on how they behave in their adult life. Psychologists have supported this for a long time. For example, studies have shown that being an only child is a factor that may predict selfishness. This is because, often, an only child had all their demands met by their parents and didn’t learn how to share. Childhood trauma can also result in someone growing up to be more selfish than normal. For example, a child whose parents abandoned them may become selfish in order to protect themselves from being rejected by others.

Signs of selfishness in your relationship.

Here are some clear signs you should look out for if you think your partner is selfish:

They make you feel worthless.If you always feel that you are not enough or your partner is always making you feel bad or guilty, this is the epitome of a selfish relationship. If you find yourself in a position where your partner is never satisfied with your accomplishments or anything you do, that means you are in a selfish relationship.

Your partner makes all the decisions.If you end up doing everything your partner wants or agree with them without room for discussion, then you are in a selfish relationship.

You aren’t allowed to have an opinion.Communication is vital in all relationships. If you have a relationship where your thoughts and opinions are being ignored, you can understand that your partner is selfish. Selfish people do not believe in other peoples’ opinions besides their own.

Your partner doesn’t take responsibility for their actions.When your partner is in the wrong, instead of taking responsibility for their actions, they blame you; this is a sign that they are selfish. Your partner may believe that they are right and they don’t need to apologize for anything.

Your partner expects you to change.Your partner is selfish if they expect you to change your personality or habits to match their needs.

Your partner’s needs are always put before yours.The truth is that most of us can be selfish sometimes. Occasionally, we do put our needs before anyone else’s. But, most of the time, we tend to be more mindful of the people around us and try to consider their needs and desires since we want them to be happy and healthy. However, a selfish person will always place their needs before yours.

Your partner wants to be in control at all times.You know your partner is selfish when they want to control you. This means they try to make you do things that they think are best for you and don’t trust you to make the best decisions for yourself.

How to deal with a selfish partner.

Friends and family would advise you to walk away from a selfish partner, but that should be the last option. Just because your partner’s instinct is to be selfish, it doesn’t mean that they can’t change it. Like all human behaviors, one can learn to be more mindful of others, more giving and compassionate. While you read this, your partner’s job should be to work on becoming a better person. Your job is to make your partner aware of their selfishness and how damaging it is to your relationship. Here are some things you can do to help your partner become aware of their behavior:

Share your thoughts and express your concerns.

The first step when problems exist in a relationship is communication. It is important to tell your partner when they have done something that bothered you or hurt you. Make it clear how it made you feel but choose your words carefully. Instead of generalizing, focus on an issue that personally affected you, and instead of blaming your partner, let them know constructively what went wrong. Keep in mind that since your partner may have some underlying childhood trauma, they may completely be unaware of their selfish behavior. Create a neutral environment for conversation wherein you can discuss your feelings and needs without making your partner feel defensive.

The next step is to set boundaries. Boundaries are important in every relationship, whether professional or intimate. Communicate your boundaries to your partner and make it clear what behaviors you will accepting and what behaviors you are unwilling to accept. At this time, you should be able to assess your own self-worth as well as that of your partner and how much effort they are willing to put in. If you both decide to try and make your relationship work, you may consider relationship coaching so a professional can help you navigate conflict and compromise.

Relationship coaching will help create a secure attachment between the two of you that will leave you both feeling heard and respected. Instead of feeling like two opponents, relationship coaching will turn your relationship into a true partnership where you will work together. You will both learn new communication skills and how to employ boundaries as needed.

Intimate relationships and marriage involve a dance of give and take. However, if you feel you are in a relationship with a selfish partner where you are constantly being taken for granted, you probably are. While you may be frustrated, thinking that you need to end the relationship, there are ways you can deal with your partner’s selfishness and create a dynamic that works for both of you. Whether you can move past your partner’s selfishness, give your relationship another chance, and help your partner become a better person is up to you. Keep in mind that not everyone wants to fix their selfishness, and with such people, it is best to walk away. You also should not feel obligated to stay and help your partner improve themselves if their behavior is damaging for you. Ultimately, it is up to your partner to work on themselves and become better. All you can do is make them aware of their behavior and how it affects you. If you can both do your part, it will be beneficial for your relationship. If even one of you is not committed to changing, it is better to leave your partner behind.


Berkey, B. R. (1987). Selfishness in marriage. Medical Aspects of Human Sexuality, 21(1), 29–38.

Farrugia, D. (2002), Selfishness, Greed, and Counseling. Counseling and Values, 46: 118-126. doi:10.1002/j.2161-007X.2002.tb00282.x