Marriage Self-Care: Fuel Yourself, and Advance Your Marriage
“True love honors both the individual and the relationship.
One cannot exist without the other. They are, in a word, interdependent.”
Often in relationships, one of the two in a couple—and it’s regrettably most often the woman—becomes more passive. One partner caves more easily to the needs of the other, placing their self worth squarely on the relationship. If the relationship fails, it’s their fault for not trying hard enough. Does it have to do with the way we are raised? Do we mimic relationships we have lived with, our parents? Or are we just programmed to preserve a relationship by any means necessary?
Many people see value in themselves only in the context of some external measuring stick: a good relationship, a happy family. But really, the measuring stick should be internal. Tying your self-worth to someone outside of yourself is bound to be disappointing for both of you. Worse still, it can lead to other issues, such as financial dependence, physical distress and can, in the end, hurt a relationship.
Culture has much to do with the matter of self-esteem and self-worth. Patterns of treating girls differently from boys creates learned behavior: girls learn to please and boys learn to expect. It’s not quite that black and white but that’s the gist of the argument. A girl who ‘fights back’ is not nice, while a girl who sublimates her personality in favor of those around her is ‘lovely’. It’s not difficult to imagine that this learning, reinforced during critical formative years, creates women who do not see the harm in their behavior.
People who give themselves up completely for someone else will eventually resent the other person, while that other person may very well come to expect their partner to always be there for them, doing for them. Feelings of anxiety can start to bubble up as you realize that you are constantly doing for others, with little in return from them. Left unchecked, those resentments can build up to a point where you end up having arguments over things that don’t even matter simply because of your need to take a stand on something, anything. These irrational positions are just the beginning of a breakdown in communication between two people that, if not checked, can become toxic.
Keeping your mental health and well-being in check
If you are lost in your relationship, it’s difficult for either partner to maintain mutual respect. There is a difference between working together, as a family or as a couple, and being completely sucked in to what one therapist refers to as the Marriage Blob:
So much is wrapped up in this whole idea of separate versus together, dependent versus independent, individual versus couple that seems to define marriage. While I am a big proponent of working as a team and putting the health of the relationship first, I do not subscribe to a person being subsumed by "the marriage blob". (Source)
Interestingly, it is often the fear of rejection or abandonment that causes people to subsume themselves in a relationship. It’s ironic because the very act of sublimation that can cause the relationship to deteriorate. This fear stems from lack of self-worth; feeling inadequate, too fat, too skinny, too dumb, too ugly. The person says to themselves that they aren’t in themselves good enough to be a contributing part of the relationship so they try to make themselves ‘indispensable’ to the other person. But in reality, loving oneself and developing one’s own sense of self-worth is far more attractive and appealing.
This kind of abdication of one’s own self for the sake of another can lead to mentally destructive behaviors, like addiction, which serve to hide any feelings of lack of self esteem, anxiety and depression. Putting your own feelings, wants and needs wholly within someone else’s control is a guaranteed way to hurt yourself mentally, and potentially damage your personal relationships, including your marriage.
The physical effects of not taking care of yourself
An important aspect of self-care is the physical. Not taking care of your body can have a range of mental and physical outcomes, from simply being unfit to heart conditions related to stress to depression and other mental health issues. None of these are a welcome addition to any relationship yet physical self-care is one of the first things to go when someone is so focused on sublimating themselves in favor of someone else.
Changing your lifestyle after marriage and dropping all the good habits you may have formed in the past, which contributed to your overall good health, is not celebrating your relationship. Instead, it’s an ongoing manifestation of sublimation of your own needs for the sake of another’s. For many people, marriage is comfortable place. A person who no longer has to worry about dating and ‘playing the field’ might see marriage as the outlet for letting themselves go a little, for relaxing their previously high standards on physicality and appearance. The reality is however that most of us will feel better if we take care of ourselves. Exercise, in particular, creates endorphins in the brain, which are the ‘happy hormone’. They basically act to turn on opiate receptors in the brain. Opiate receptors work on the same principle as taking an opiate drug: creating a euphoric rush. This all natural version of the rush that you feel when you’ve been physically active is far more effective than the chemical one.
“Taking care of yourself can also keep the spark alive in your relationship. More than likely, while you were dating, you put energy into your appearance. You probably took some effort to look good for a date. However, after being married, how much effort do you put into going somewhere together?” (Source)
Self-care is seen sometimes as selfish. Taking time for one is taking time away from something else and an unhealthy understanding of what it takes to maintain one’s physical well being can easily be justified as being ‘selfless’. It’s not. Getting enough sleep, enough exercise, eating a balanced diet: these are all things that are necessary in respecting yourself and your body.
... researchers believe the pursuit of health and happiness is far from selfish. When we take good care of ourselves, we're likely to see an improvement in many aspects of our lives, including our physical health, relationships, and even our income. Plus, by making the choice to practice self-care, we have a tendency to care more for others—proving its importance for not just ourselves, but the world around us.” (Source)
Maintaining your financial well-being
the majority of couples (64%) put all of their money in joint accounts, while 14% kept everything in separate accounts, and 18% had both (source)
When two people get married, there is a tendency to merge all the assets: bank accounts, physical assets, and so on. It is often seen as a romantic and loving gesture, but there is danger inherent in not actively participating in maintaining not only financial well-being but some measure of financial independence. This is one of those areas in a relationship where it is imperative to be more practical than romantic. Of course, no one wants to think about the possibility that the marriage might not work out, but the reality is that it’s possible and financial stability is very important.
Women lose some measure of financial independence around the time the couple chooses to have children: if she is not working for a time, that is money not earned. If she has not established her own credit and other financial assets before taking this time off, it can present difficulties at a later date.
A good starting point in financial well-being is communication. In fact, the two areas where relationships tend to flounder most often are over communication and money. So this is an area of your marriage where you need to pay special attention and make sure that you discuss all aspects of money, openly. You need to know what assets and debts are being brought into the marriage and how you will move forward with these.
You need to agree on how the money will be managed, spent, and shared. If you opt for a joint bank account, consider that each should still have a personal account that is not joint. You need to agree as to what is done with each person’s salary and how much each person can hold back for their personal account. Within the joint account, you need to agree on what purchases are acceptable (is it based on a dollar amount, for example?) and which need discussion and joint agreement.
When it comes to expenses, like monthly bills, don’t let only one person be in charge. You should both be aware of your financial standing at all times and that includes the cost of things like the mortgage, heating, electricity and so on. If one person is in charge of the bills, things can be hidden, or downplayed, like extravagant purchases on credit cards.
Speaking of credit cards, while a joint card for joint purchases is perfectly acceptable, it is also important for each person to have their own credit card, to build up their own rating. In the event of the demise of the relationship, either by separation or death, one person is not suddenly left with no available credit or valid rating. Since so much today is based on one’s credit, including the ability to purchase a vehicle, rent an apartment and even some types of employment, it’s essential to maintain a good rating as an individual.
Taking on a mortgage is likely only possible to manage jointly but beyond that, joint debt is a risky proposition and something to beware of. If anything happens to the relationship and one party stops paying the debt, the other will be wholly responsible for it. It can turn very ugly in the case of divorce and in particular where there are children involved.
We all trust and love at the beginning of a marriage but when it comes to financial matters, thinking with your heart only, and not with your head, can lead to a lot of pain down the road.
Keeping your interests and passions in your life
Maintaining a healthy dose of self respect and a strong sense of identity is important for your overall well-being. The things that you are passionate about matter and saying that they don’t matter is saying that you don’t matter, that your opinions don’t matter.
We’ve all likely met the person who has completely sublimated their own needs and wants for their current relationship. The girlfriend who, on meeting someone new, refuses to book time for a coffee or a dinner because she is leaving her schedule open for him, in case he calls. The man who is afraid to ask his girlfriend if it’s okay if he goes to a ballgame with his buddies, fearing that she will be jealous or annoyed.
Wanting to be your best in a relationship is commendable but you need to be your best WITHOUT the relationship too. There is real power in controlling your own happiness by doing some things your own way. Having your own interests and pursuits does not have be at the expense of your relationship: if anything, it will enhance it. You will be an independent person who has things that they enjoy outside of the relationship. A partner who feels that they are responsible for your happiness will eventually find that to be a burden. You will also find that they are not fulfilling your happiness and you too will become unhappy with the arrangement.
In general when you have a life, you’re in a win/win situation: You enjoy your time being with your partner/you enjoy your time on your own. Plus it prevents feeling pressure to keep your relationship together to avoid being alone since you have a life outside of the relationship if it ends. You can relax and enjoy and let things flow, knowing you and your partner are together because you want to be, not need to be. (Source)
Just as with financial well-being, pursuing your interests and passions needs to be communicated to ensure that the other person understands those needs and doesn’t feel that they being rejected. Early in a relationship, people tend to forsake other pursuits in order to be with their new love interest. As time goes on, they will gravitate back to some of their original hobbies, that they had prior to the relationship. It’s all quite manageable as long as open communication remains the order of the day.
Get it through your head that you deserve it: That you are entitled to care for yourself.
“Fighting for your right to exist is not required. When you accept it as a birth right, then define and lovingly enforce boundaries to protect that right, there will be no need to defend it. It will simply be a statement of fact.” (Source)
Asserting yourself by stating outright what you need is a gift only you can give yourself.
Take time to be alone to remove the focus from your partner and put it back on yourself. Disconnect, take up yoga, journal, run… whatever it is that you can do so that you can have that time to regroup. It’s important to take stock once in awhile and be aware of the time you spend caring for others: partners, kids, family members and friends, so that you can be sure that you are also leaving some time and energy for you.
Modelling a healthy relationship for your children
Over time and with busy lives of work and extracurriculars, sports and trips, parents in particular take on specific roles. They’re not always segregated over traditional lines, but they do tend to become entrenched so much so that after a period of time, the one who fixes the computer may not know how to do the laundry and the one who makes dinner may not know how to set the car GPS. We can become complacent with these roles, accepting them as the way things are but that complacency can also contribute to an unhealthy level of co-dependence, which is not the relationship model you want your kids to learn.
Ignoring a marriage can also lead to anxiety. In trying to keep the peace in the household, communication between partners can sometimes take a back seat. Ignoring issues that need to be discussed, known in some circles as the ‘flight response’, is not healthy. At the same time, arguing in front of the kids is healthy. Not all of the time, of course, but letting kids know that disagreements are normal—what can be referred to as ‘constructive disagreement’. It’s how the arguments are handled that is ultimately the testament to the relationship and is a great learning experience for kids. Children can pick up on tension very easily and it can affect them very negatively. Lack of communication is far worse for them than the odd argument.
There is a place for children in a family but it is also important to nurture a marriage. Taking time for one another, without the kids, is just as valuable as taking care of the kids together. There is a tendency these days to forsake the marriage for the kids: in other words, putting the kids first, at the expense of the marriage. Whether both parents are doing this or only one, the long term damage is almost inevitable. Modelling a healthy relationship to children is the single best way to ensure that they look for something similar in their own future.
There are some practical ways you can do this:
- Add date nights to your schedule, where you go out as a couple and try not to discuss the children!
- Take a vacation without the kids, if there is someone you trust to take care of them for a few days.
- Make a plan to meet on the sofa after bedtime routine is complete, for a glass of wine and a chat about the week, or whatever.
- Don’t be afraid to be playful and affectionate in front of the kids. While it needs to remain G-rated, the children will benefit in understanding that being parents does not mean that you aren’t people with personalities, in your own right!
Signs that you are lost in your marriage
Enthusiasm and devotion are wonderful ideas but they can easily lead to excess. Like what?
- Excuses, excuses — A sure sign that you are are losing yourself is that you are willing to rationalize your partner’s behavior to yourself, no matter how inappropriate it may be, and worse still, that you will excuse those behaviors in the face of friends and family pointing it out. So when they don’t show up for your family reunion because they didn’t feel like it, you may excuses for them: so busy at work, so tired, so nagged by the ex-spouse, so...
- Giving up the goods — You used to have coffee with your friends every week. Now? It’s lucky if you get together once a month. The others are still going but every week, you find an excuse because you want to spend time with your partner. You say to yourself it’s because you have so little time together, what with work and other commitments, but is that it?
- You are no longer a person, singular — You are a couple, a unit, two people who are now one. An event that doesn’t include the other person doesn’t get a moment’s consideration.
- Everyone else comes first — When you get to a point where everyone else’s needs come before yours, where you change your plans to suit theirs, where you anticipate their needs without a thought for your own, you are entering dangerous co-dependent territory that can ultimately sabotage all of your previously healthy and happy relationships.
Ultimately, you need to be able to fulfill your own needs yourself, not being dependent on another person. Why? Because depending on someone else to fulfill your needs will inevitably result in their failure to meet your expectations. Result? You will be resentful of them and ultimately they of you. You need to take responsibility for your own actions and fulfilling your needs. Not to the exclusion of the other person but not with the focus being 100% on them. It’s an unreasonable burden to expect that someone else will be fully responsible for your happiness, a burden which will ultimately cause a breakdown in the relationship.
A relationship/marriage, is a living entity. It needs to be nurtured and the participants need to be whole individuals in order for the balance of life, love, work and children to be successful. Live it to the fullest!
Additional Marriage Self-Care Resources
- Mental well-being:
- Why Do Women Lose Themselves in Marriage?
- Five Signs that You’ve Lost Yourself (and Your Integrity) in Your Relationship
- Balancing Codependent Tendencies: Improving Relationships through Self-Care
- How Not to Lose Yourself in Your Marriage
- How to Be With Someone But Still Be Yourself
- Keeping your identity after marriage
- 4 Ways You're Not Taking Care Of Yourself Emotionally
- Physical well-being:
- Why Self-Care is Important for Your Physical and Mental Health
- 25 Science-Backed Ways to Change Your Life by Taking Better Care of Yourself
- The Importance of Taking Care of Yourself Physically
- Interests / passions:
- How do you balance your interests/passions with being in a relationship?
- If You Want a Healthy Relationship, Get a Life!
- Protecting yourself financially in your relationship
- "I'll Take Care Of The Bills": The Slippery Slope Into Financial Abuse
- Modelling for kids:
- Strong parental relationships build happy children
- Modeling a Good Marriage for Your Kids
- Things that can hurt a relationship:
- 5 Habits that Hurt Your Relationship
- 5 Ways To Take Care Of Yourself In A Relationship