• Darrell & Robin MacLearn

Put Self First – The Oxygen Principle

Don’t misunderstand this step or underestimate the power of this step. This step is not about being selfish but about looking in the mirror and being the best you, you can be before you try to correct someone else. In fact, when we talk about putting yourself first, we are talking about it in a context that, when done right, is challenging you to confront your selfishness and areas of your life that hinder relational growth and health. Unfortunately in relational dysfunction, we are quick to point fingers and hesitant to look in the mirror. Everything you are saying and feeling about your partner may be true. But before you point that out be sure to leave them NO room to point back.

Put yourself first Imagine you’re in an airplane listening to the flight attendant’s instructions. What are you told to do in case of a loss of cabin pressure? You are told that oxygen masks will fall from overhead and you are to secure a mask on yourself first BEFORE helping anyone else. In a similar way, we are saying it is important to work on being your best self before pointing accusing fingers at your partner. This concept works even if you are the only one working on it. But imagine if both partners are becoming their best selves. Your relationship will be limitless.

When we talk about putting yourself first we are talking about being the person you want your spouse to be and doing the things you want your spouse to do unconditioned upon whether he or she does in return. In other words, it is about doing the right things because they are the right things to do. It is about being the kind of person you want to be with.

It’s about…

  • Integrity

  • Honoring unconditionally

  • Cherishing unconditionally

  • Serving unconditionally

  • Communicating openly

  • Opening up and being vulnerable

  • Keeping all the vows not just the fidelity one

  • Intentionally growing and learning relational skills


No one is perfect and everyone has the opportunity to point a finger and be right. The power of this step is the mirror, a sheet of paper, and the 3 other fingers pointing back.

It is not hard to see the weaknesses in someone else. However, when we are self-aware and willing to do more than just take a hard look but be honest and corrective in action, we will see growth beyond our imagination. Relationships are built on humility and honesty and integrity. Think about this for a moment.

What would it do for your relationship if your spouse took an honest inventory of his/her life and actions in the relationship and wrote them out and then came to you and was humble and honest with you about their flaws? Would you respect them more or less for their honesty and willingness to look in the mirror and work on themselves to be their best self for you?

Growth begins with awareness. This is where the work begins…

A critical spirit is wrong and never helps a relationship move forward – period!

We want to encourage you to take a piece of paper and spend a little time with yourself. The hardest part about this is to honestly look at yourself without thinking about your partner and his/her actions or list. Remember this is an unconditional list and analysis. 

Avoid statements like…

“I’m critical because…” “I’m ________ because…” Stay with the truth of the statement…“I’m Critical” Period! The reason for my criticism doesn’t make my criticism any more right than the reasons he/she would give for their actions. A critical spirit is wrong and never helps a relationship move forward – period!

So whatever the reason or rationale for your critical spirit, it is irrelevant to the fact that your critical spirit is not helping you move toward health in your relationship and needs to be dealt with.

On the other side, be careful that this doesn’t become a self-bashing session but rather a self-aware session. The point isn’t to beat yourself up but to become self-aware of your actions that affect your relationship in a positive and negative way. Once you are self-aware, you are ready for the next step

Make a decision to do the following:

  • Decide that you will work on yourself before trying to change your partner.

  • Decide that you will become your best self no matter what your partner does or doesn’t do

  • Decide that you will commit to learning and growing and becoming the person you need to be for your relationship to be all it can be

Growth may begin with awareness but it’s realized in action.

No one is perfect! Everybody has a zit. Look in the mirror, find yours and pop it!

Do more than just discover Growth may begin with awareness but it’s realized in action.  Look in the mirror, make your list, then take action.

  • This may require an apology

  • This may require accountability

  • This may require a deep level of determination

  • This may require coaching

Action is the resistance that develops the muscle that produces the desired outcome. It is not always easy in the moment of action. But the repeated action can produce a result that leads to an extraordinary relationship.

It is time to put yourself first and become the person that is so compelling that your spouse can’t resist you and will make changes to keep you!


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