F. Cal Robinson, PsyD
Relationship self-care is about balancing two different priorities:
- Maintaining healthy, supportive relationships, and ensuring you have diversity in your relationships. There are many ways to connect and nurture relationships in life and it is a joint venture to determine the best ways to meet everyone’s needs.
- Self-Care in relationships is also about taking care of yourself and your needs as they pertain to your relationships with your partner, friends, family, and others in your life. To be the best version of self, you need to know when it is time to shift gears and focus on yourself. This can reduce feelings of being overwhelmed or unwell. Self-care will also provide energy for you to nurture healthy relationships.
First, I will describe a few simple ways to support healthy relationships.
- Prioritize your inner circle relationships, which may include partners, family, children, and close friends. Your inner circle is the “ride or die” people in your life. They are the people most important to you, so these connections must be treated with the kindness and respect they deserve. Communicate your needs often with them, and ask them to communicate their needs in return. Maintaining connections with the people most important to you will bring everyone a greater level of happiness and satisfaction. Part of the human condition is that we desire closeness and connectedness. Embrace it with the people you love the most!
- Attend special events of your family and friends. We like to be recognized for our hard work and accomplishments, whether that is a piano recital, a recognition at school or work, or presenting a project at a science fair. When you value someone’s passion and commitments, their sense of self and validation is enhanced. Each of us wants the people we care about to see us shine!
- Arrive to work and leave on time every day, as your job allows. Nobody wants to ever hear the complaint, “You work too much! I never see you!” from someone you love. Do your best to leave work and spend time with people you care about or doing activities that bring you fulfillment and joy.
- Reach outside your comfort zone to connect with people. This might mean it is time to work on healing old wounds. We often carry “family of origin” experiences (growing up) with us through life. These experiences can give us clues as to why we behave in certain ways in all types of relationships. If you experienced trauma, chaos, or breaches of trust, you owe it to yourself and people in your life to dedicate time to work through your emotional injuries to learn how to be the most secure you can for others. (An example of this would be if your father left your family when you were young, and you carry a constant fear that your partner will do the same, despite the fact that she or he has never exhibited similar behaviors).
- Most arguments stem from our own fear or pain. When upset or issues arise, rationally assess what’s going on inside of you, rather than immediately getting angry with your partner. We are rarely upset for the reasons we think. Take a moment to analyze your feelings and move forward from there. Re-examine values that matter.
Next, let’s explore ways to practice self-care in relationships. Self-care is important because it allows us to pay attention to and look after ourselves.
- Take time for you. It is crucial to take an opportunity to recharge, think, or engage in activities that bring you personal joy. While we are born to connect with others, we are also unique individuals, so focusing energy away from the needs of others to focus on self can greatly benefit those about whom you care. You cannot pour into others if your cup is empty.
- Admit what you don’t like. Do you dread weekly Sunday brunch, but you keep doing it, week after week, because your friends enjoy it so much? It’s completely acceptable to admit that something is not enjoyable to you. Most likely, your friends would be amenable to a different activity IF you let them know your feelings. Communication is the key to any successful relationship. Have the courage to accept there’s something you do not like, and speak up!
- Set healthy boundaries. As humans, there is a natural emotional and psychological space between us. As such, we have a responsibility to know our boundaries and have a right to set our boundaries in a respectful way. We can usually sense when our boundaries are being violated; you need to speak up to preserve the relationship. Chances are good this conversation will strengthen your relationship. If it doesn’t, it might be time to assess if this relationship is right for you, whether it is a partner, family member, or friend.
- Sweep out the toxic. If any relationship in your life consistently leaves you feeling badly, it might be time to reconsider why he or she is in your life. Surrounding yourself with people who positively impact you is a great act of self-care. If the toxic person is a family member or co-worker who you can’t simply cut from your life, try to set boundaries so there is more distance between you.
- Be responsible for your own happiness. It is not realistic to think that another person can be the sole reason that you are happy and fulfilled. These things must start within you. If you feel it’s your partner’s fault that you aren’t happy, it is time for some self-exploration to determine what is missing in your life.
Self-care, as it pertains to relationships, can be quite a dance, especially if you are in the throes of a busy career, family life and extracurricular activities. We owe it to ourselves and the relationships we value to communicate openly about our needs and wants out of life.