I used to have a friend, several years ago when Mark and I were first married, who liked to give me marriage advice. I remember that she described a technique for staying faithful, for ensuring a successful marriage. She called it self-sublimation. What she meant, I think, was that to succeed at marriage, you need to put your partner’s needs and desires ahead of your own. At every turn, you must consider your mate first and act on that consideration, not your own interests or feelings.

I think she had a good point. For many years, I followed her advice. You know what? It worked. My marriage has been very happy and successful. Putting Mark’s needs first became something that made me happy. It was as if witnessing his personal successes and happiness vicariously made me happy and successful. Although I might have from time to time felt frustrations at whatever I might have been giving up or trading off on, as long as I could look to Mark and see him happy, all was good.

In our marriage, I think this dynamic went both ways. Mark has always managed to give me what I want, whether it’s a vacation, a bigger car, or even a third child. For many years, self-sublimation worked for us. The key is having a willing partner who reliably, truly, wants you to have what you want. Each partner must feel that they are both making the other happy by fulfilling their desires, and having their desires fulfilled happily by the other.

Earlier this year I read something. It was short and simple. And–I have to admit this–it threw a wrench in my system. It was this: Monogamy is hard. My first reaction was “No, it’s not.” But those three words stuck. I started to rethink self-sublimation, this time as a negative. What have I overlooked or ignored about myself in the interest of my marriage? What, by the rules of my marriage, do I want that I should not want?

I’ve spent some time this year poking around under those rocks, and I’ve found a number of things. Some of them are acceptable within the bounds of my marriage, and some are not. Some things, like rekindling my career, are relatively easy. Mark is completely supportive. Some things, like finding a place for spirituality in my life, are rockier. Mark’s mind is closed on that subject, so I have to go it alone. And some things, like my desire for sex with other people, are outright outrageous within my marriage. Here lies the limit of self-sublimation: When it becomes self-annihilation, it fails.



  1. I find self-sublimation an interesting term and it had me thinking whether I am doing it. I think we all do it to an extent, but I also think it’s bad to loose yourself in the process. Thanks for sharing this post – it has certainly got me thinking.

    Rebel xox

  2. Mark says:

    I think to be fair, my mind isn’t closed on spirituality. I’m not against exploring spirituality with you, just realize that belief in God is different than exploration.

  3. Malflic says:

    Interesting and thought provoking. I think compromise only gets you so far and there are certainly times your own needs to be above theirs.

  4. Molly says:

    I think this can only work long term if both partners are giving to the other equally, otherwise just one person does all the giving, bending, sacrificing and eventually that will lead to resentment and a lose of self as you forget who you are and what you need in an attempt to always please the other person.


  5. I think that it definitely only works if both partners are doing so equally. For my relationship with my civil union partner, Apollo, my perception is that we are very much doing that – and it works very well 🙂

    xx Dee

  6. Mia says:

    Equality is definitely the key here if it is to work, if only one side does the giving it will not work and identity will be lost. As you have found eventually you will start to question and start to turn, as you say, “the stones” to see what is underneath and that is where, potentially, problems could be raised. It is good that you are both able to be honest with each other and be able to discuss the issues raised.

    Great post and very thought provoking!

    ~Mia~ xx