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Ahh, “self care.” It’s become such a buzz word over the last decade or so, but the idea behind it is sound as can be because too many of us put ourselves on the back burner. How does this relate to marriage? Well, do you want to show up for your spouse as your Back Burner Self or your Best Self?
There are several ways marriage and self care go together, but if you’re wondering about the importance of self care in marriage, you’re in the right place. Self care in marriage is different than self care while single, just the same as self care as a parent is different than self care for child free folks. It’s all relational, and we are going to frame it today as it relates to committed relationships; it’s not just about you caring for your self, it’s about you caring for your self so you can show up stronger, sturdier, healthier, and happier in your marriage.
That doesn’t sound selfish at all, does it? There are several ways self care can help a marriage, and several ways to improve your level of self care. Let’s dive in!
How Self Care Can Help Your Marriage
If you want to maintain connection in a long-term, committed relationship like marriage, presence is key. This isn’t about physically being there, but rather about showing up mentally, ready to engage, and this isn’t something that’s easy to do when you’re stressed out and overwhelmed with all of the life things on your plate.
This isn’t about the busyness of life either, this is about being able to show up with your partner focused on them, not half listening to them as the other half of your brain tries to troubleshoot that issue happening at work while simultaneously trying to remember what the heck you needed to grab at the store but didn’t. Engaging in self care means you’re better equipped to show up with your spouse in an intentional, present way. We deserve the best of each other, not just the rest of each other, right?
Oooooh, this is an important one. It’s really easy to fall into reaction mode in marriage… trust me, I know this well! Reactivity is when we don’t have the time/headspace/emotional maturity to respond thoughtfully to a “trigger” (I know, another great buzzword of the times!) so we react from a place of often high emotional distress and/or pre-programmed response. Not surprisingly, this is usually not a win for healthy communication.
If we are taking care of ourselves well, we are more likely to be in a healthier head space where we can really hear what our partner is saying without all the loaded auto responses rushing to the forefront of our brains, ready to fire out of our mouths and scorch the ground around us. Better self care leads to better communication in marriage.
This might be one that doesn’t automatically spring to mind when you are considering how self care can help your marriage, but the truth is that intimacy, both physical and emotional, are hard to maintain when a person is highly stressed and overwhelmed. Can you remember the last time you had waaaaay too much on your plate and were struggling to carve out time to have a solid meal, get a good night’s rest, even take as long of a shower as you would like? It doesn’t set the mood for physical or mental intimacy, right?
The idea behind how marriage and self care interplay is that when we are taking care of ourselves, really and truly honoring our own needs, we show up with our partner in a way that can honor theirs. We want to show up with our cup full, right?
For those of us who grew up fairly boundary-less, boundaries might feel like a wall that is put up to stop someone else from engaging with us in a certain way, but boundaries are more like guidelines, or paint on the streets meant to help keep us from going off in a ditch. When you set clear boundaries with your spouse for things like time, money, even intimacy and communication expectations, you are helping them stay out of the ditch of your expectations!
For example, a boundary-less person might never tell their spouse that their expectation of physical intimacy every night is more than they want or can accommodate, and eventually, this leads to resentment and likely even a blow up where hurtful words are exchanged. Or maybe your partner’s spending habits are draining the family checkbook in a way that’s causing you stress. If you can’t honestly communicate what your wants and needs are, you can’t come to a shared understanding of what the expectations will be around that thing, and someone is likely to end up careening off the road. Boundaries are important for self care and marriage satisfaction.
Signs You Might Need Self Care in Your Marriage
- Feeling resentful about your partner’s time to themself
- Feeling overwhelmed with the expectations your partner has of you
- Feeling unsure if you’ll ever have the time or energy to do what you need to do
- Feeling like you’re not even sure what you’re missing or what you want
How to Practice Self Care in Marriage
Protect your Sleep
This differs for everyone, but the older I get, the more I recognize how incredibly important a good night’s sleep is in letting me show up as my best self for my kids, my work, and yes, my husband. It’s really easy and common for us to steal sleep from ourselves by not enforcing our own sleep needs, whether that’s the time you need to feel like you’ve got a good night’s sleep, or even the sleep conditions that you require to sleep well.
Here’s a disclosure that some people find shocking: my husband and I have been sleeping in separate bedrooms for about 10 years now, and it’s GLORIOUS. It’s not that snuggling isn’t fun, it’s that we just don’t sleep well together.
I need to get up at least once a night to pee, and if he wakes up when I get out of bed, he’s up tossing and turning for hours trying to get back to sleep. He has to wake up at 5am for his job, I would prefer to not have to wake up at 5am for his job. He prefers total silence and complete darkness, I love my little nightlight and white noise is an absolute must for me! We just require two very different sleep environments, but by ensuring we have our best sleep, we both show up as our best selves the next day.
Eat Healthy Food
Food impacts mood SO much, and I wish this was talked about more! The way we fuel our body with what we eat and drink makes a difference in our energy levels, mental clarity, physical stamina, etc, and I think when we are intentional about the foods we choose instead of just grabbing whatever is easiest, we end up getting more out of them than we do that convenience meal we picked up on the fly.
I’m not a nutritionist, but I know mindfully eating healthy foods makes me feel healthier than mindlessly consuming junk food, and I do consider taking the time to intentionally prepare healthy meals a form of self care.
Find Movement Opportunities
Working out or going on a walk together is a great, healthy way to spend shared time, but we are often meeting in the middle when we do this. If you can make time to embrace movement opportunities by yourself, too, you won’t have to slow or hurry up your pace to match your partner, and you’ll be able to meet your own movement needs without trying to match theirs. Plus, this is often a great opportunity for getting lost in your thoughts, listening to a great podcast, or blasting your favorite songs. Taking a solo walk while listening to one of my favorite podcasts is one of my most favorite forms of self care in marriage!
Meet Your Time Needs
This can be a tricky thing to navigate for married couples, because often we just want to spend every moment of every day together! However, this isn’t healthy for any relationship because everyone needs time to themselves, and this is especially true if you are caregivers to children, elderly family, even pets.
If you are busy taking care of everyone else always, remember that someone has to take care of you, too! Don’t be afraid to let your spouse know that you need more time for yourself, even if that means they might need to step up and do more. And of course, even if there’s no one else to take care of, you still deserve time to meet your own needs.
Have Creative Outlets
Having a creative outlet in your life is an excellent way to practice self care in marriage. Being able to express yourself creatively is a form of meditation that can help to clear your mind so you can return to your partner feeling refreshed and rejuvenated and ready to engage with presence and clarity again.
Some people find their creative outlets in the kitchen, in the woodshop, on the laptop, or wherever, but having a creative outlet is a fantastic form of self care in marriage.
Pursue Personal Ambitions
It’s common for a married couple to have a lot of shared ambitions, because that’s what building a life together is, right? But that doesn’t mean that each person should scrap any personal ambitions they might have. Don’t dismiss your dream of learning to sail or writing a book or whatever your personal ambition might be just because it’s something your partner is uninterested in. Having personal ambitions to pursue means we get to keep growing into more complex and complete versions of ourself for us and our spouses. Building your best self is self care, and who doesn’t want to show up as their best self for the person they love most?
I’ve heard people confuse the idea of self care as being selfish, but I think that’s the direct opposite of what self care in marriage is about. You don’t want to offer your spouse your most worn out, unhappy, disgruntled, frustrated self, right? Of course not!
In order to show up in your relationship as your strongest, sturdiest, healthiest, and happiest self, it’s important to practice self care in your marriage, and when you do, you just might find that you give your spouse permission to do the same.
But ultimately, the number one reason I think self care in marriage is important is that you are important as your own person, regardless of if you are officially joined in a relationship with another person or not. You deserve the same kind of care that you give everyone else, and if you need someone to give you permission to start practicing self care in your marriage, consider this your permission slip.
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Kendra Paulson is the writer behind the content on Has Baggage, Still Travels on IG and FB, where she creates personal growth content. She loves to travel and explore new places with her husband and two kids, which is a good thing because their military family moves every couple of years to a new place for a new adventure! A mix of every place she’s ever lived, Kendra likes to think she brings a little taste of the plains of the Midwest, the coastal Southeast, the desert of the Southwest, and the lush Hawaiian Islands to everything she works on.