If you're constantly trying to make your partner happy, and your partner's doing the same, you'll both always be happy, and it'll be the best relationship you ever had. —Donna Barnes, relationship coach
Ever since blogger and Utah-native Seth Adam Smith posted his article "Marriage isn't for you," his personal experience has quickly created an online controversy.
The article has received more than 24 million page views, according to Smith, along with a flood of responses. Most of the comments have been positive, but some have taken a stance against his treatise on selfless love.
In the original post, Smith wrote about a lesson he learned while deciding whether to marry his now-wife, Kim. He went to his father questioning whether his decision to get married was right, and his dad surprised him with his answer.
"With a knowing smile he said, 'Seth, you’re being totally selfish. So I’m going to make this really simple: marriage isn’t for you. You don’t marry to make yourself happy; you marry to make someone else happy,'" Smith wrote of that discussion.
"'More than that, your marriage isn’t for yourself; you’re marrying for a family. Not just for the in-laws and all of that nonsense, but for your future children. Who do you want to help you raise them? Who do you want to influence them? Marriage isn’t for you. It’s not about you. Marriage is about the person you married.”
Smith goes on to say, "No true relationship of love is for you. Love is about the person you love."
Although many bloggers have agreed with Smith's selfless take, some have pointed out the importance of self-love.
"Yes, any good relationship is about you caring for your partner’s needs and making compromises for the bigger picture," Tony Bravo wrote in his post at sfgate.com. "That said, the only way you can enter any partnership capable of being a decent companion is if you come to the relationship a whole and complete person. You cannot be a force of happiness in someone else’s life if you don’t extend that courtesy to yourself."
One of the first rebuttals came from Michelle Ruiz at cosmopolitan.com (note: the post contains obscenity), in which she makes some of the same claims: "Stop lying, marriage is for you."
"If each of us forgot about ourselves as individuals, and focused only on the other, we'd probably be really frustrated, not to mention super-boring," Ruiz wrote. "If this is what Seth considers selfish love, I'm the worst. Good thing I was self-serving enough to marry someone who strives to make me better."
As these criticisms circulated, Smith decided to write a "response to the response."
"Many of the criticisms of my blog post have been centered on the idea that if you love/devote yourself to another person too much, you will lose your identity and the uniqueness that you bring to the table. But real love does just the opposite," Smith wrote.
"Keep in mind that I’m talking about love, not co-dependent or abusive relationships, because that’s not love. ... Real love is hard and real love is a sacrifice. But it is a sacrifice that transforms us into the fullest measure of our identity."
Many commenters have also defended Smith's post, clarifying the messages they took from his statements. Hannah Bryant, a commenter on cosmopolitan.com, shared her take.
"I think the point of the original article wasn't to say that you shouldn't think at all about yourself or your own wants or needs or anything. (It goes on to tell you how much love you get back when you love people, which is at least partially selfish motivation.) The point was that going into a marriage shouldn't be a selfish thing," Bryant wrote.
"Of course, there are benefits to it — I don't think he's denying that — but you can't go into marriage with the mindset of demanding to be catered to and making everything all about you and expect it to work out."
One criticism that has been mentioned by several bloggers is the interpretation that only one person in a relationship needs to do the serving.
"Focusing solely on your spouse’s happiness — without regard to your own — leaves you wide open to being bulldozed," Aaron Anderson wrote on goodmenproject.com. "As a marriage counselor, I have seen so many spouses who are so wrapped up in making their spouse happy that they don’t recognize that they’re being bulldozed."
Other critics believe only one spouse in most relationships needs to hear Smith's advice. Emma Cueto at Bustle.com expressed her opinion that Smith's piece should be geared toward men.
"I don’t disagree with Smith’s advice, per se, but I do think that the issue of selflessness in relationships is a very gendered one, and to suggest uniformly that all people need to think less about themselves is to ignore the fact that, historically, selflessness has been demanded of women in relationships," Cueto wrote.
"Women have been expected not only to stay home to look after the house and raise the children, but people assumed that such a selfless role would be fulfilling for women because they are women."
Amid the critiques, blogger Matt Walsh responded positively to Smith's post, offering encouragement.
"Seth, stay strong, brother. Your message was true, urgent, and 'old fashioned,' which is why it’s met with so much anger by all of these tolerant, 'open-minded' folks," Walsh wrote.
"I understand what you were trying to say. It was easy to understand because you stated it pretty clearly. And, sure, married people are still selfish. Married people in successful marriages still struggle with the urge to be self-absorbed. Nobody is making any Utopianist claims here. But the point — not just Seth’s point, but THE point — is that we have to fight that inclination and always work to serve and love the person we’ve married."
After an appearance on "Good Morning America," Smith's relationship advice was also evaluated and supported by relationship coach Donna Barnes.
"First of all, this guy got great advice from his father because I think anytime you're feeling anxiety and that kind of stress, if you can take the attention off of you it will help relieve that anxiety," Barnes said.
"If you're constantly trying to make your partner happy, and your partner's doing the same, you'll both always be happy, and it'll be the best relationship you ever had."
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