Self-Care for the Couple

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

By UB therapist Michael Maloney, LCPC

More and more people are taking on the concept of self-care.  We are finding that when we take care of ourselves that we are able to bring more of ourselves to the challenges of everyday life.  Work, stress and life’s hardships are much more manageable when we learn to take care of ourselves and recharge our souls.  

But more and more I am wondering if we need to bring this mindset to our relationships with our significant others.  Often I hear of couples that get in ruts or a steady stream of, if not unhealthy, non-reenergizing behaviors.  Often times the stress of life can wear down on the couple.  Work takes over for one or both members of the couple.  The added roles and responsibilities of parenting sap more of our time and energy.  As we grow older our parents age as well and may need more help from us.  All these things need to be done, and they all take time and opportunity away from our intimate relationship.  

New items have also popped up in how we spend time together.  While we may feel lonely when a partner is away on a business trip, we might even feel lonelier if we see our loved one looking at the phone or laptop instead of engaging with us while we are in the same space.  Often with self care we need to recognize the activities that recharge us verses the ones that feel more like junk food that feel filling but really do nothing to give us energy.  Just as we need to learn this for our self care, we need to do this too for our relationship care.  

Each person in the relationship has ways of taking care of themselves.  This is good for any relationship.  It should be highlighted that what is good for one member of the relationship does not mean it is good, helpful, or even healthy for the other.  So while it takes time and learning how to take care of yourself, it also requires additional time and learning to figure out how to care for your relationship.  This, as it should be obvious, is not an activity that you can do on your own but something that should be shared and reflected with your significant other.   Self reflection can help, but making sure to see how your partner perceives the ideas is also helpful.

Below may be some helpful areas to explore with your partner to find things that can help build more relationship care in your life.  While exploring these it is best to come from a state of curiosity and try to understand your partner’s answer to some of the areas and not feel defensive about your answers.  This should not be ‘why aren’t your answers the same as mine’ or ‘but mine is the right way’ but rather ‘tell me how this would help you so I can better understand.’  This may be difficult for some, but patience and curiosity can help a lot of these conversations.  

Self-care becomes Us-care

While this might be contrary what was written above, exploring what each partner’s selfcare looks like can help find common ground.  While each partner is unique in how they care for themselves, knowing and understanding what each one needs to take care of them helps build understanding and possible mutual interests.  Maybe you both like running.  Maybe one does yoga and the other would like to try it out.  Maybe someone needs more alone time to reenergize and the other gets more energy with time together.  Understanding the differences, the similarities, and contradictions can help your relationship needs.  

The contradictions don’t mean that you are not a good fit, but rather finding a way to honor both needs.  So for the example of time together if someone needs time alone, it means they bring more of themselves when they have time together.  Understanding this helps bring better understanding to what your partner might need even if it doesn’t work for you.  Think of it as a manual.  Your partner is wired differently and having the owner’s manual can help understand how that wiring works.  It may even help to understand when things go wrong what is happening.  If you have that owner’s manual you might know that they didn’t get enough alone time so they are grumpy or that you haven’t been spending time together so they are more on edge.  

Boundaries

Boundaries are important for the individuals of the couple.  They are essential to self care and they are even more essential for relationship care.  Understanding a partner’s boundaries and one’s own boundaries can help build better understanding of what is important.  Similar to the understanding of the other’s self care, knowing boundaries gives more information about the partner’s manual.  

Time Together

How we spend the time together is often highlighted by the quality over the quantity.  Self care is often described as activities that energize the self.  Relationship care may be things that not only energize the couple but also nurture both parties.  Understanding how time together can revitalize the couple and which activities or barriers limit the quality time together.  Below are different areas to explore time together:

Time Together: Play

One of the most vital parts of self care is play and time to explore.  Everyone has their version of play, but what is the couple’s version of play?  Do both of you like playing board games with friends?  Or seeing a movie, a concert, or a play together?  Taking a class together?  Trying out new restaurants or going to one of your favorites?  What about taking trips together?  We do these often when we start the relationship, but often these go to the wayside as more responsibility is taken on.  Again this is not about forgoing all responsibilities, but to bring energy into the relationship to nurture it.  What parts of play do you want to bring back into the relationship?

Time Together: Social

While this area might be a similar area as play, sending time with others, as a couple, can help bring a couple closer.  Being able to see friends and family engaging with your other loved one often can feel great.  Sometimes these events seem like a hassle to plan, but often the social parts are the glue of a relationship.  Maybe they don’t get along with everyone you know, but finding the ones that help bring connection helps.  What do these activities look like?  Sharing a meal?  Finding other couples to be with?  Making sure to spend time with each other’s families?

Time Together: Leisure

How time is spent resting is just as important as the active times.  Often couples mention that the feel that their partner is having an affair with their smartphone while at the dinner table.  What kind of space makes you feel connected as a couple?  Removing devices during dinner can help.  Do you watch a television show together?  Read next to each other?  Share massages?  What does down time as a couple look like?  

Intimacy

Intimacy can be a very broad term for the relationships.  It can mean holding hands.  It can mean cuddling on the couch.  It can be farwell kisses or saying I love you.  It can also mean sex.   What is important for intimacy in your relationship.  What does intimacy bring?  Where does it feel safe?  When does it not feel safe?  There are many ways to explore how to bring more intimacy back into the relationship.  Both partners need to reflect what they like and want.  Do you include I love you when parting or hanging up the phone?  Do you go to bed together?  If sex or other intimacy is lacking then what are the barriers and what can be adjusted?

Conflict and Arguments

All couples fight and they should fight.  No couple will agree with eachother 100% of the time.  Being able to be in conflict with your partner is not easy and is often painful, but it shows that you are communicating on the hard stuff.  No one is necessarily good at having these arguments and couples often grow up learning different conflict styles at home.  How did you see your parents manage conflict?  How did your partner’s parents manage conflict.  Can you call timeout and do you know when?  How do you reconnect?  Again arguments and fights are both inevitable and hard.  How to address them is a learning process.  

Seeking couples therapy can help explore these areas and help gain more feedback in where to grow your relationship care.  Therapy helps create time and space to discuss these things and look what is working in favor of the relationship and what pulls energy away.  A therapist can also help create common language to help couples see eye to eye.  

As with self-care, relationship care is an ongoing process that will need review and evaluations to see what works and what needs adjusting.  But in the end a stronger and supportive couple unit creates a stronger and supportive person (or two).