How Selfish Do You Think You Need to Be in a Marriage?

And they lived happily ever after. What a wonderful ending for childhood stories. I used to close the book with a smile full of anticipation and naiveté. After many years of taking the face value of these stories, I finally understood their deeper meaning.

Why did the princess and not the daughter of the witch win the heart of the prince?

Well, yes, everybody, especially children need to hear about happy endings. But if we take a closer look at the true nature of the character of the princess, she is the embodiment of kindness, altruism, and compassion. In exchange, the daughter of the witch is mean and selfish.

Passion and the initial love may change over time. As Mark Twain said in his Notebook 1894, “No man or woman really knows what perfect love is until they have been married a quarter of a century …”. Interests, needs, beliefs and physical appearance change. One aspect stays constant: the true nature of each one of us.

What helps to mitigate marital conflicts?

Research on Americans and Europeans shows that married people perceive themselves to be happier than single, divorced or separated people (Dalai Lama, The Art of Happiness, 10th Anniversary Edition: A Handbook for Living).

“I think that if one is seeking to build a truly satisfying relationship, the best way of bringing this about is to get to know the deeper nature of the person and relate to her or him at that level, instead of merely on the basis of superficial characteristics.” (Dalai Lama, The Art of Happiness, 10th Anniversary Edition: A Handbook for Living)


Maintaing a healthy and happy marriage is a journey of spiritual growth. As much as it is about discovering the deeper nature of our spouse, as Dalai Lama wisely pinpoints, it is about fighting the demons inside us. And the biggest demon is the selfishness which characterises each human being.

Being open to improve ourselves

A happy marriage is built on the willingness to destroy the selfishness, which is the cause of most of the conflicts. Instead of wasting the time on being angry and pointing our finger at the faults in our spouse, a constructive attitude is to remember that both we and our spouses want to be happy and don’t want to suffer.

The perfect love after a quarter of a century of marriage does not come by the grace of God. On the contrary, it requires patience and team work to discover the “deeper nature” of our partners. I am not an expert in happy marriages, but one thing I’ve learned so far is that living happily ever after means knowing how to turn the selfishness into altruism towards our spouses.