The Myth of Self-Love

Why you can’t love yourself into a better marriage

Have you ever thought about what it must have been like to be married a hundred years ago? There were hardly any books on how to have a better marriage and no marriage getaway weekends to rekindle your love. How did our great-grandparents manage?

It’s All About Me . . . Right?

While I’m a fan of resources that help us grow in relationships, I’m also convinced that many of the books and seminars that aim to help can actually end up harming. Why? Because the vast majority of books and relationship seminars focus on the big ME—what I want, what I need, what I deserve, and how I can fix my marriage.

“Well, you can’t really love others until you learn to love yourself.” I’ve heard this common sentiment hundreds of times in songs, poems, on bumper stickers, and even in the church. Some Christians cite Jesus’ commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39) as a biblical mandate that we should focus on loving ourselves.

I believe this modern-day rendition of Jesus’ teaching has done more to destroy marriage than Internet porn.

Instead of actually helping us in relationships, I believe this modern-day rendition of Jesus’ teaching has done more to destroy marriage than Internet porn. Yes, that’s a strong statement. But consider this: the use of porn and other destructive habits in marriage are fed by a humanistic belief that says, "I will only be fulfilled when I put my own needs first." A focus on loving yourself never prepares you to love someone else. In fact, it actually sabotages your capacity to love.

Self-Focused or Selfless?

The truth about love is closer to these teachings from Jesus:

  • “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13).
  • “Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it” (Luke 17:33, NIV).

Throughout the Bible we are reminded that selfishness, even under the pretense of “finding myself,” is a lonely road to nowhere. I’ve met many women desperate to fix their marriages through the pursuit of self-love and self-actualization. They don’t have to look too far to find a relationship “expert” who will encourage selfishness as the way to healthy intimacy.

Self-love has many different expressions. While some women are obsessed with their looks and achievements, others are self-absorbed in their insecurity. In both of these situations, our hearts are preoccupied with self, unable to extend unselfish love or live a life to the glory of God alone.

Juli Slattery

Juli Slattery is a TCW regular contributor and blogger. A widely known clinical psychologist, author, speaker, and broadcast media professional, she co-founded Authentic Intimacy and is the co-author of Passion Pursuit: What Kind of Love Are You Making?

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May 25

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