how to be a selfish wife

I listened to two therapists discussing marriage recently and I was struck by one particular line:

"To have a successful marriage, we need to be less selfish. Do I NEED him to do laundry, or do I just WANT him to do laundry? I just want it. It can wait."

On the surface it seems like pretty harmless and vanilla advice, the kind of thing your kooky aunt writes on your engagement card: "Dear Sonny and Babs, we are so happy for you! Never forget, the secret to a happy marriage is to always take care of each other first. Love, Aunt Sara."

On the scale of "uh huh, sure, okay I'll just do that" marriage advice, "don't be selfish" clocks in right between "never go to bed angry," and "keep it spicy!"

But this particular conversation stuck in my craw, and after a quick stop at the lady doctor to get that taken care of (current craw status: mind-blowing), I knew I had to write about it.

It's holiday season, and you know what that means: no matter what your actual hobbies and interests are, for the next 2 months your only hobby is "magic" and your sole interest is "making goddamn memories."

For women who already do so much for their families and communities, the holiday season is an extra-deep swamp of necessary thoughtfulness that someone else has helpfully signed us up for. The alternative is to hike deep down into the valley of shame and self-doubt, so we usually just get hip-deep in mandatory sweetness and just try to get through.

OK, so, the next person who reminds me that it is my full-time job to be PERSONALLY nice to, and ALSO that it is also my sole responsibility to ensure the niceness of everyone and everything in my life... whoo boy, that poor Chad is going to get a VERY short personalization on his Christmas card this year.

merry xmas
- our family

that's right, asshole
i already used up all my "christs"
talking shit about you behind your back

no "xoxo" for you this year

how's that for

I am a white girl from an upper-middle-class churchgoing white family.

I went to prep school and an affluent private college in the south.

I have been programmed to execute a life of selfless niceness.

The only way I could be less selfish is if I grilled my own flesh to serve at my children's birthday parties (#MomBurger #ItsALittleDry #MOM #MOMGETTHEMAYO #MomWhyAreYouWalkingLikeThat)

and shaved my head to weave the thread to darn the heel-holes in my husband's socks (#WifeSocks #HeadThread #WhyAreYouCrying #YouDontNeedHair #ButHeDoesNeedSocks #StopBeingSoSelfish).

The only way EVERY MOM/WIFE I KNOW could be less selfish is if we surrendered our earthly forms and all our pesky needs (Are you tired of needing sleep? Food? Time to pee and poop?) and became angels who follow our children around cutting their grapes and catching their little arms right before they plunge into the river, and linger spectrally over our spouses' shoulders at Christmas parties whispering, "His name is Jake, and he went to Moab on a climbing trip a few months ago, I saw it on Angel Facebook."

Frankly, I think it's offensive that the advice these professionals would offer to women is to be less selfish in their marriages. FRANKLY, I'd like to know when the last time anyone told a man to be less focused on his own shit, and more dedicated to someone else's well-being.

(Down, Feminist Werewolf! Down girl! I know, it's enraging, but keep it on a leash here. We have another point to make.)

I've been married for 7 years, and while I'm sure there are people reading this blog who look at that number and think, "Oh that's adorable, pumpkin," I nevertheless feel that I have been a wife long enough to know a thing or two about wifing.

And I need to take a moment to talk about why it's important to be a selfish wife.

Even though it may not be what you see on Lifetime or at the family reunion, or read on Hallmark cards in the anniversary section, you have to be selfish.

You have to.

A kickass wife is selfish not because she doesn't give a shit about her marriage, but because she gives a big shit about her marriage.

She gives such an enormous steaming shit about her marriage that she refuses to come to that marriage as anything less than a grown-ass woman.

She gives such a massive eye-watering corn-speckled shit about her marriage that so help her God, she will not let it become anything less than a true partnership.

As a partner, she must have equal time and care given to her needs and endeavors.

So here are 5 ways to be a selfish wife.

Five Ways to Be a Kickass Selfish Wife
by Katie

1. Like What You Like The Way You Like It

A kickass selfish wife takes care of her self. And she does it early and often.

She knows when she can share her sparkling water with her child, and when she needs to tell that child, "No, babe. I am really thirsty. I'm going to drink it all."

When she sees this mug, she emails it to her partner with the subject line, "I want this for my birthday."

and when she doesn't get it for her birthday
she says thank you for the linen sheets baby
they're so nice

and then
she buys this mug for herself

she is

(emily mcdowell studio)

She buys the beer she likes at the store.

She taps her partner on the shoulder. "Oh no. Nope. I don't like that."

She says, "I need to be alone right now, babe." She goes for a run and leaves the dishes undone.

She's doesn't sit quietly and feel her hunger (and sadness) grow, while she watches her husband read Politico. She's doesn't sit there and look at him, not looking at her, and think I'm here. Look at me. I'm hungry. I'm sad. 

A kickass, selfish wife is going to say, "Hey, I deserve your attention. It hurts my feelings when you're on your phone at home. Please put it down; I want to talk to you."

Or she grabs her keys and says "I'm going to get a burger."

A kickass selfish wife knows that any time you silently expect your partner to read your mind, it's a mean trick.

A kickass wife knows that she is the only person who can do her life the way it needs to be done. And she knows that the only way she can do her life is if she takes the time she needs to do it.

She is selfish for two main reasons:

First, because she knows how important she is. She deserves time. She deserves space. She deserves to be heard. That's a fact.

Second, because being selfish sometimes is the only way she can be truly selfless other times. She knows that she cannot pour from an empty cup.

2. Have a Thing

A kickass selfish wife has a thing.

She has a thing because she was an interesting, passionate kickass woman before she was a kickass wife. A kickass wife does not make her partner fall in love with her, and then surrender the qualities that made her magnetic. No, a kickass wife keeps her stuff. She has a thing.

Her thing is fun for her. She does it because she loves it, not because it's impressive or useful. It makes her feel good. And it belongs to her. Not to her family, her partner, her kids. Just her.

The thing might be fantasy baseball, seeing all the Oscar-nominated movies, a side hustle on Etsy, a book club, an art class. It might be scuba, salsa, or Scandal. It might be pop culture or philanthropy.

Nobody else need approve of her thing. Nobody else needs to think it's kickass.

Her thing is kickass because it belongs to her. Because she, herself, kicks ass.

3. Trust Your Gut

A kickass selfish wife isn't impervious to pain. She doesn't wear her armor 24/7. And sometimes, a kickass selfish wife gets hurt.

When she's deciding whether something was okay or not, she hears all the voices in her head that tell her to be nice, pipe down, suck it up, deal with it later, it's not worth hurting your partner's feelings, you're just being sensitive, you're just being picky. The voices in her head tell her not to be so... selfish.

And then she trusts her gut and says, "Hey, that wasn't okay with me."

When she stops liking something she used to love, she hears all the voices in her head. Just eat it, it's fine, he was trying to do something kind for you, be nice, be nice, be nice. Don't be so selfish.

And then she trusts her gut.

"Thank you for this breakfast. I don't like my eggs over easy anymore. I know, crazy, but I'm doing them scrambled with hot sauce now and I feel like I'm finally living my best egg life."

A kickass wife ends up on her own team. She listens to herself. She trusts her own judgment. Sometimes she's wrong, but a kickass wife knows that it's better to be on her own losing team than to throw herself over and eat eggs she didn't want, silently, making fake yummy sounds.

4. Pick Fights

There's a reason she's called "kickass" and it's not because she's an artisanal hot sauce. A kickass selfish wife comes clean when something's bothering her. She notices when her partner's off, and more importantly when she herself is off. She speaks up.

"What's going on with you right now?"

"I feel so angry when..."

A kickass wife picks fights not because she wants to hurt her partner, but because she knows that silence hurts so much more than the fight.

5. Say I Love You

A kickass wife says I love you in the way only she can say it, and in the way her partner can really hear it. 

Sometimes a kickass wife says I love you in a way that scares her - by challenging her partner's choice to do something unhealthy or destructive, or by allowing her partner to own his/her own choices and consequences.

Sometimes a kickass selfish wife says I love you by waiting to pick that fight that needs picking. Sometimes she says I love you by picking it right then and there.

Sometimes a kickass selfish wife says I love you by NOT saying "I told you so," even when she predicted this shit show from minute one. Sometimes she says I love you just by saying, "I'm so sorry that happened."

Sometimes a kickass wife says I love you by making a sandwich; sometimes she says I love you by saying, "I don't have time to make a sandwich. Make it yourself, and eat it happily, with the knowledge that the person who made it was not slapping mayo on bread while seething with resentment at your audacity to need your belly filled while I'm busy."


As I read back over that list I'm struck by how prescriptive it sounds, as if I think I know the answer.

"Other people thinking they know the answer to my life" is like #2 on my list of throat-punchable offenses, so let me come fully clean here:

I struggle to do all of these things, all the time.

"Like what you like the way you like it?" WOW WHAT A GREAT IDEA. I'LL JUST DO THAT REAL QUICK.

As if it's so easy to silence the chorus of voices all singing different songs in your head: "But Chicken is acting mad," and "Buster needs clean socks" and "Ryan looks tired, I wonder if I can help."

As if I can say to my 3-year-old and 5-year-old, "I can't play with you right now because I need to take care of myself this morning." I mean, I can say that... but I'm pretty sure what they'll hear is, "Yes I will play with you but first you have to say the secret password which is a combination of whining and scraping toys across the floor."

"Have a thing?" A thing? OK, so, I'm really into making sure my kids don't cultivate a lifelong love of cruelty to small animals, does that count as a thing? Yeah, um, my "thing," I guess, is basically hygiene? Yeah, it's pretty kickass to not have skin infections and stuff. Wheeeeee?

"Trust your gut? Pick fights?" YOU TRUST YOUR GUT. True story, I literally had a 10-minute pep talk with myself in the bathroom about ordering a fucking pizza. I said I wanted a Greek pie, Ryan said, "Don't you usually like the garden veggie better," and I automatically said, "Yes, ok, garden veggie," and was then seized by equally strong forces of self-loathing and terror that prevented me from being just a regular human who could say, "No, I said what pizza I wanted and that's the one I want."

I emerged from the bathroom 10  minutes later with steely resolve and said to my husband, who truly just wants me to be happy, "Ryan, I know I normally like the garden veggie, but life is too short to eat pizza that we don't want, and death comes for us all before we are ready. We need to call them and change the order to the Greek pie."

I know! It sounds insane when I type it out, not least because my husband loves me madly and wants me to eat whatever I want whenever I want it. But of course, it's not really about him. It's about me, learning to trust that the world isn't going to explode if I live in conflict with expectations, and also learning how to express desire for food without feeling embarrassment or shame, which is a whole other bundle of issues that we can talk about later.

Even though I made this list, and even though I try to do the things on this list, I still fail at them as least as often as I succeed. And it's easy to mark those missed opportunities for selfishness on the master list of "Things I Failed At Today."

I don't want to issue you a must-do action plan, or burden you with the sense that if you don't do all of these things all the time, you're a failure as a feminist, or grown-ass woman, or a wife.

I wanted to defend selfishness because when I heard those two women say that women need to be less selfish, my first thought was that they were right, and my second thought was that we were all wrong.

Selflessness is wonderful, but it's incomplete. And if you're reading this, chances are that you give more than you take on a daily basis. You do not need to be reminded to be selfless any more than you need to be reminded to blink.

I just wanted to tell you, if you needed to be told (like I do), that you deserve to like things the way you like them. You deserve to drink your own can of sparkling water, because you are the only one who can quench your thirst, and because it tastes so fucking good. You are just as important as anyone else in your life.

You deserve to have a thing, and be on your own team, and pick fights when your feelings are hurt.

There are millions of ways to be a kickass woman, wife, partner, mother, person. Some of those kickass qualities are selfless: splitting your lunch with your kid, pausing your TV show to hear about your partner's hard day, just eating the fucking eggs sometimes.

But some kickass qualities are selfish, too.

Just... take care of yourself. You're the only person who really can.

Happy Thanksgiving.

That is all.

If you liked this post, check out episode 2 ("Such a Selfish Woman") of my brand-shpankin-new podcast, Mouthy/Messy/Mandatory

A Katie, Ronit, and Larj Media Pod-uction
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  1. This was exactly what I needed to hear/read today - thank you so much!