This quote just about sums it up. Self-care is a must in healthy relationships, so why is it so uncommon and unsupported? Somehow self-care got a bad rap. Have you ever tried to put yourself or your needs first and been told that you were being selfish or received a guilt trip from someone? I know I have. We teach kids that it’s always bad to be selfish, and we often hear, even into adulthood, that it’s more important to do things for others. The intention behind this kind of teaching is not meant to be harmful, but unfortunately it can have very negative results. These lessons don’t allow for the nuances involved in such complex topics. Selfishness is not always a bad thing; sometimes it’s necessary. Supporting and caring for others is wonderful unless you take it to the extreme of sacrificing your own self-care in the process.
Have you ever met someone who is so selfless that they don’t even know how to take care of themselves? Do you know someone who puts all of their effort into making sure that their partner’s needs are being met, and does not believe that their needs are just as important? Another facet of this dilemma is when a person believes that she/he needs to take care of others so that they will reciprocate. I meet these people all the time. Maybe this describes you to some degree, or maybe you fall into the more common category of people who simply feel guilty when they take care of themselves. All of these mindsets can be unhealthy, and lead to numerous problems in relationships as well as in the other areas of a person’s life.
I wish that all people were taught, starting when we are kids, that self-care balanced with caring for others is vital to health, happiness, and supportive relationships. Since that is not the current reality, it’s time to start learning this for yourself now. In healthy, supportive relationships, each person takes care of themselves and supports the other. In normal day-to-day life, you shouldn’t have to take care of each other. The phrase “taking care” of someone implies that they cannot do things for themselves. Taking care should be limited to those situations that warrant it. We take care of children, we take care of others when they are sick or injured, and we take care of ourselves. We support others and others can support us. There’s a very big difference between taking care of someone and supporting them, and a shift happens in the relationship when you start believing in that difference. Relationships need to have a component of support between partners, but you need to take care of yourself, because no one else can do it for you.
In case you are wondering what self-care looks like, the simplest answer is that it entails whatever an individual needs to feel fulfilled; emotionally, physically, spiritually. Self-care is different for each unique person. There are some components that would apply to everyone including exercising, eating healthy, taking care of your own health conditions or doing what is necessary to prevent health problems. However, what that entails is very different depending on individual needs. For some people they need to exercise daily to feel good about themselves, and for others that may mean getting outside and walking a few times a week. The other components of what fulfills you as a person needs to be discovered, if you don’t already know. Start with the activities that bring you joy. Do you feel nurtured after a quiet night at home of pampering yourself, or do you feel happy after spending time out with friends? Experiment with what works for you, and then build your self-care routine around your unique needs.
Are you thinking that you simply don’t have time to take care of yourself or are you possibly thinking that your needs aren’t a priority? These thoughts are very common. One thing that happens when we grow up with a skewed perception of self-care is that we believe we don’t deserve to be cared for by ourselves or anyone else. This belief, even if it is not a conscious thought, leads to low self-esteem over time. There is almost always a link between low self-esteem and poor self-care habits. The inverse is also true. When you start improving your self-care habits your self-esteem usually gets a boost as well.
Having this negative mindset and devaluing your self-care impacts all areas of your life. Although, it is often not apparent until you are in a long-term relationship. When you start the process of incorporating another person into your life, the effects of having good or bad self-care habits become very apparent. There are numerous dynamics that can occur but most often is a discrepancy between how much each person in a relationship prioritizes their own self-care. Typically one person will prioritize their self-care and the other will sacrifice to help their partner maintain that high level to their own detriment. The self-sacrificing partner will continue to give everything they can to their partner, and continue to devalue their own needs. This eventually leads to resentment on both sides. The partner who has sacrificed for so long expects their partner to reciprocate at some point, or at least acknowledge their sacrifice. The partner whose self-care has been a priority resents that the other doesn’t take care of him/her self. Does this sound familiar? Do you or your partner ever get upset with one another because of too much or too little emphasis on self-care? If so, you can start to make changes now to improve the situation.
Start with an open, honest, and straight forward discussion about both of your self-care needs and habits. Talk about what you have observed about each other. Talk about what values and beliefs you both hold regarding this topic. Are there discrepancies? Are there different perceptions of how well you take care of yourselves? Try to determine what areas you both could improve upon. What could you both do differently that would impact the relationship? Ask for support from each other in making these changes, but take responsibility for making sure your own needs are being met. You should value and prioritize yourself and your own self-care for your own sake, but also for the benefits it will bring to your relationship.If you start making these changes today, you will be amazed at how much of a difference it makes in your life and in your relationship.
It’s time to stop making excuses. It’s time to make yourself a priority. Even if you don’t feel you deserve it, and even though it can be hard to make changes, make the commitment to be your #1 priority anyways because everyone benefits when we learn to take care of ourselves.
What do you do to make your self-care a priority? Share with our community in the comments below.