Is Your Spouse This Selfish?

How to turn your spouse from selfish to selfless

Suppose it’s your lucky day, and you win $240. But it’s not just your money, because you are meant to share the prize with your spouse. Fortunately, they do not know about the money, nor that you won in the first place, and you can share it in whichever way you please. Now here is the big question: How do you split the money between yourself and your partner?

Do you split the money fair and evenly? Do you keep a bigger winner’s fee for yourself? Or do you feel generous and give your partner a larger portion of the prize?

The scenario mentioned above is called the Dictator’s game (because one person decides for themselves and others), and it is often used in psychological experiments to study when people act selfish or selfless. Naturally, people are more generous when they are close to the other person – such as when the other person is their spouse. And yet, even then, a small intervention can make a big difference in the size of their spouse’s share of the money.

From Selfish to Selfless

In a recent study in Nature Scientific Reports from Andrew Gloster’s lab at the University of Basel, researchers investigated when people in committed relationships act in selfish or selfless ways. As it turns out, a small intervention of mere 15 minutes could lead people to act more selflessly towards their partner – a full week after the intervention. A bit over 13% of those who did not have the intervention behaved selfishly toward their partners, but the “micro-intervention” lowered that to less than 5% — cutting down the rate of selfishness by two-thirds. When you consider that these are changes in how you treat the person closest to you, that’s a pretty dramatic difference!

Even outside the unlikely event that you or your spouse win a sizable amount of money, this intervention speaks volumes about the degree in which we can be influenced to put our partner’s needs before our own. In real life, it could mean the difference between telling convenient lies, or communicating openly and honestly, even when the truth is hard.

So what is this intervention that turns your spouse into someone who leaves you that last slice of pizza? Well, it has nothing to do with psychological trickery, and instead is all about building psychological flexibility. 

This may sound complex, but it basically means helping a person connect with their goals and values, and empowering them to act on them – even when it’s hard and uncomfortable. As you can imagine, this not only leads them to be more generous when it’s hard, but also makes them more effective in other areas of their lives.

The Power of Psychological Flexibility

There is a growing amount of scientific research into the many benefits of psychological flexibility – from being mentally stronger, to performing better in academics, sports, and work, and engaging in more selfless, values-oriented behaviors in general. And as you have seen in the study, a simple exercise of only 15 minutes can already make a big difference.

The participants in the study were asked to describe the struggles they are currently experiencing in life, and reflect on what is genuinely important to them, such as their goals and values. Using a daily diary, they were instructed to practice awareness and acceptance skills using methods drawn from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, that helps them make room for emotions and thought that might interfere, even while taking steps towards meaningful activities.

Naturally, it’s not enough to simply do this exercise once and then be done. Just like going to the gym, you will have to train your psychological flexibility skills regularly and frequently. The more you practice, the more mentally strong you will become. Incidentally, when you are psychologically flexible yourself, you also increase the odds of your partner being psychologically flexible. And who knows, they might just be more willing to lovingly leave that pizza slice for you, or to share that next lottery win!

You May Also Like

Blog Articles

A Radically New Way to Quit Smoking

Smoking kills. We all know it. The last 50 years have seen an explosion of anti-smoking campaigns as public health officials realize that smoking is a chief cause of cancer, cardiovascular illness and a host of other diseases. To some extent these campaigns have worked: We are seeing a dramatic reduction in smoking among younger …<p class="read-more"> <a class="" href=""> <span class="screen-reader-text">A Radically New Way to Quit Smoking</span> Read More »</a></p>

Tune in; Turn on; Figure it out

The history of psychedelics is deeply intertwined with the history of humanity. Indigenous cultures often ingested hallucinogenic substances in spiritual rituals to build deeper connections with nature and different deities. They used them to heal wounds, to prepare for battles, and also just to have fun. Nowadays, however, the practice of psychedelics has shifted. Even …<p class="read-more"> <a class="" href=""> <span class="screen-reader-text">Tune in; Turn on; Figure it out</span> Read More »</a></p>

Is Self-Compassion More Important Than Self-Esteem?

Is it important to love yourself? It seems that depends on how you do it. Few concepts in popular psychology have gotten more attention over the last few decades than self-esteem and its importance in life success and long-term mental health. Of course, much of this discussion has focused on young people, and how families, …<p class="read-more"> <a class="" href=""> <span class="screen-reader-text">Is Self-Compassion More Important Than Self-Esteem?</span> Read More »</a></p>

Join Steve’s Newsletter

Get exclusive access to my podcast Days Are Getting Better and my best content straight to your inbox. Your information is protected and I never spam.