Self-care is a vital part of making us function in a positive way. It involves tending to your physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Self-care can encompass actions like engaging in exercise, adopting a nourishing diet, ensuring adequate sleep, effectively managing stress, and asking others for help when necessary.
In the complicated realm of relationships, especially good ones, prioritizing self-care holds particular significance, as it enables us to uphold a healthy relationship with our significant others, but also friends, colleagues, and family. Having a good understanding of what we need, and how self-care looks to us enhances our capacity to communicate effectively, forge meaningful connections, and provide mutual support. Research has proven that when we are happier in ourselves, we are better equipped to form and maintain happy relationships.
We spoke with Courtney Boyer, Relationship and Sexuality Expert to figure out the difference of what self-care can look like to people, and why it plays such a crucial role in maintaining healthy relationships.
What can self-care look like?
Self-care can take many forms. There’s the traditional ones - bubble baths, massages, weekends away. But I’m a big fan of things, like setting boundaries. Saying “no” to things that don’t serve you. Listening to that inner voice inside of you that nudges you which way to go. Honoring your body by slowing down. Resting. Eating an extra slice of your grandma’s famous pie. Buying yourself fresh flowers. Nourishing your spirit by spending times with friends that make you laugh so hard you almost pee your pants. Self-care is often offered in isolation. “But I think self-care can absolutely be in community with others. And honestly, it’s one of the best ways to heal-in community. And what a powerful way to experience healing,” says Boyer.
A university study found that those who engage in regular self-care activities, whatever it looks like to them as an individual, have better relationships overall, with higher satisfaction and emotional regulation.
Why is the role of self-care so important in maintaining healthy relationships?
There are plenty of reasons why the role of self-care is a vital part of maintaining healthy relationships, and we asked Boyer to elaborate on each point of self-care’s importance.
Self-care connects you with your deeper desires
It connects us with our desire to be valued, loved, and appreciated. Also the desire to experience pleasure, and not just sexual pleasure. And the more self-aware we are, the more we can operate from the conscious space (and not just run on auto-pilot), and that’s how you create an intentional life, explains Boyer.
Self-care promotes self-love
Self-care and self-love are not synonymous. It’s important to remember that if self-care is not rooted in self-love - then it’s like watering weeds and expecting flowers to grow. Self-love is the secret ingredient necessary to make self-care matter. It can be a beautiful cycle that feeds one another; self-love and self-care.
Self-care connects you with your body
If we believe that our bodies are not safe (even at the unconscious level) then we will do anything we can to escape our body. When we engage in activities that are body-centered, it allows us the opportunity to reconnect with our bodies and feel safer in our own environment.
Self-care sets the standard
“We teach others how to treat us” is such a powerful statement, and it couldn’t be more true. When our standard for what we’re willing to accept is high, then we don’t settle for subpar relationships and behaviors, because the expectation is that we deserve those things that bring us joy and love and peace.
Self-care inspires others
When we give ourselves permission to do the things that light us up, it shows others what is possible. We can inspire our partner, friends, family, and even strangers by demonstrating that we are committed to caring for ourselves and our needs.
Self-care improves your sex life
When you are connected to your needs and desires, when you love yourself and believe you are deserving of pleasure, your confidence increases, and you begin to advocate for what you want. You have more energy, and more interest in connecting with the part of you that is connected to pleasure and passion.
What could be the risk to your relationship if you didn't maintain self-care?
When we neglect self-care, we send a message to ourselves that our needs and desires don’t matter, that we don’t matter. It may sound a bit dramatic, says Boyer, but it’s absolutely true. If we don’t believe that taking care of ourselves, acknowledging that we have needs that deserve to be met, then we don’t bring our full selves to a relationship, and then we just end up serving the other person and their needs while completely ignoring our own.
In a sense, we become martyrs. No one is winning a prize for being a miserable martyr. And this is the space where resentment can build, because we are giving so much of ourselves to our partner and receiving nothing in return. We become depleted, disconnected, and disillusioned, yet we press on, praying that they will see all the amazing things we are doing in hopes that they will encourage us to tend to our own needs. Spoiler alert: they rarely do.
So when we maintain our physical, emotional, spiritual and sexual wellness, we not only provide a better environment for ourselves, but those around us.
Are there ways in which you should practice self-care in different ways when in a relationship, as opposed to when you're single?
There’s definitely more freedom to practice self-care when you’re single than when you’re in a relationship. “A lot of women I work with are in relationships and mothers, so they don’t feel like they can just take a bubble bath whenever they want, or sleep in til 9,” says Boyer. Their (perceived) obligation to others often prevents them from engaging in routine self-care practices.
If you are in a relationship, it’s important to be considerate of your partner, their concerns (for example, how money is spent), and develop a plan that they can support. Because it is really hard to consistently engage in self-care when you have a partner that does not support that habit. So, communicating how your self-care habits make you feel and how they benefit you (and subsequently your partner) is very important.