Over the past year, we have been bombarded with every self-care remedy that is intended to help us through this nightmarish year. Eye masks, neck massagers, or bamboo bath trays that all solve a momentary problem, but ultimately provide just enough relaxation to allow us to neglect the larger issues at hand.
But while you were tending to your own self-care, have you neglected to show the same care for your relationship? Your partner has likely engaged in some personal care this year as well. So by the basic principles of addition, two happy, healthy, self-cared for adults should make one happy, healthy relationship, right?
Self-care for a couple is much more than two individuals enjoying relaxation separately. Couples should be tending to the same needs as individuals to nurture their relationships with the added aspect of prioritizing genuine connection. Counselors agree that there are eight dimensions to self-care including physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, intellectual, environmental, social, and financial, which can be applied to couples as well.
I know what you’re thinking, “I barely have time to take a shower, how am I supposed to care for all the kids, the house, my career, and eight aspects of my relationships?”
Even if you struggle with time management, the way that you choose to spend your time is your prerogative. As women, we often deprioritize ourselves in favor of the household. Investing time in yourself and your spouse should not be a stressor or something that provokes guilt over the other things that you “should be doing.”
If you want your marriage to be the greatest partnership in your life, you need a healthy foundation rooted in communication and collaboration. Developing a self-care plan with your partner can include ways to reconnect emotionally and check in on the mental, physical, and overall wellness of one another and your relationship.
Read on for ways in which you can start to fully care for your relationship daily, weekly, monthly, and annually.
Go to bed together
If your schedules allow it, close up the house and migrate to bed together. This is a great symbolic and physical way to wrap up the day and focus on recharging. An added bonus is that this will likely draw you away from whatever screen you are getting lost in before bedtime, which can interfere with a good night’s sleep. If your partner falls asleep quickly, grab a good book and read a chapter before rolling over.
If you can’t exercise together or have different abilities, work together to create a schedule to address your needs. For example, my husband and I each work out three times a week. We decided I would work out Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 5:30-6:30 p.m. while my husband puts the baby down. Then, I put the older kids to bed and my husband hits the gym. We meet back up for dinner afterward.
But movement doesn’t have to mean a formal workout, grabbing the stroller for an early morning or early evening family walk counts too.
Encourage better nutrition and hydration in one another
Ensure that you and your partner are meeting essential dietary requirements or monitoring any health concerns by collaborating on a meal plan that tackles those issues (cholesterol management, protein consumption, meeting veggie intake goals, etc.). Make it interesting and challenge your partner to a friendly competition based on water consumption or cook a new meal together once a week.
Discuss hot topics
Schedule a weekly meeting that serves as a checkpoint and a safe zone to bring up issues. Create an outline together of the general meaningful areas of your life. Keep it in the calendar invitation notes so that you each can add notes as life throws curveballs all week.
Examples of general topics include parenting, work, marriage, intimacy, and general health. Have the hard conversations and brainstorm ways to solve your individual and collective problems, but also share the small victories and cute things your kids say.
Schedule time that is exclusively for you to be alone and do what you want (which does not include the meal plan, grocery list, or scheduling doctor’s appointments). For example, one partner gets Saturday morning to rest, slowly sip coffee and enjoy alone time and the other partner gets to do the same on Sunday. The most important rule is that there is no guilt or resentment towards the other person for taking time for themselves, even if the kids decided to do some Sharpie art on the walls.
A 2017 study found that the average couple has sex 51 times a year, which is about once a week. In addition to physical benefits like lower blood pressure, better sleep, and stress reduction, physical intimacy increases self-esteem and releases neurotransmitters that encourage bonding with your partner.
This is just an average. Openly discuss your needs and wants with your partner. Consider your love language and your comfort levels. And if you need a last little push, schedule sex.
Learn something new together
We often hear that couples just grow apart. Trying something new shows vulnerability which naturally opens you up to more connection and opportunity for growth together. Sign up for a Masterclass subscription which offers digital classes in anything you can imagine taught by well known experts. Or try to perfect the latest TikTok dance trend.
Determine if you need outside help
Continue to keep tabs on your household’s needs through your weekly Hot Topic meeting. If you notice that an issue is trending for a month or more, talk about getting outside help for it. That could range from outsourcing the lawn care to encouraging your partner to start seeing a therapist to deal with anxiety issues. Join forces to make your household run efficiently so that you have time to take care of the individuals inside.
Money makes an appearance on every list of reasons why couples argue. Be proactive and discuss what you have, what you need, and what you want. Establish priorities for investments or paying down debt and goals for income and expenses together. Determine the most effective way for everyone to contribute and raise concerns as they arise.
Institute a “State of the Union” discussion
Discuss the same topics that you cover in your weekly check-ins, but on a grander scale—the entire year. Consider what worked well, what needs improvement, and establish expectations and goals for the coming year. The new year or your anniversary are good reminder dates to prompt this conversation.
Create accountability systems
Pinpoint weaknesses and determine how to help each other manage the areas in which they struggle. For example, if your partner is not proactive regarding their personal health, establish an accountability system so they make doctor’s appointments. Making sure your person takes care of themselves isn’t nagging, it’s caring.