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Me vs. Us: Balancing the Need for Self-Care in a Relationship

Couple therapists talk a lot about the importance of creating quality time for your relationship. What often gets less attention is the equally high value of establishing time for yourself.

There is great variability in the balance of independence within romantic relationships. Partners will not always share the same preferred dose of dependency, and it is a task for any relationship to communicate openly about each other’s needs and develop a dynamic that respects both preferences. It is not that very independent couples are “right” and attached-at-the-hip couples are “wrong” so much as it is about finding the balance that is right for your relationship.

A chief stepping stone to achieving this goal is understanding the purpose of self-care. Self-care is an important element of managing stress and allows you to bring your best self to your relationship. It can be challenging for some partners to supply the necessary time and effort towards self-care because they might feel guilty for experiencing something separate from their partners or undeserving of alone time.

Self-care is especially important when challenging contextual factors such as having children or a stressful career intensify the potential benefits and need for personal time. However, the fast pace and multiple roles many of us experience in modern society make it all the more challenging to balance time for ourselves, our relationships, and our families. Thus, we must make a concerted effort to carve out space for ourselves and communicate with our partners about why this time is necessary and beneficial. Because in the end, taking personal time benefits every context of our lives.

Take the following steps to begin bringing a healthier balance to your relationship.

1. Discuss the need for self-care.
If you notice an imbalance in your relationship, the first step is to talk about it with your partner. Discuss your expectations and preferences for balancing personal time with time dedicated to the relationship. Brainstorm the constraints to personal time and how you can help each other work around them.

2. Establish your agreed-upon rules for self-care.
Taking time for yourself is inherently selfish, in a good way, and it is important to not take such advantage that your partner becomes resentful. Consider creating rules that will put both of your concerns about personal time at ease. For example, if you take time for yourself on a weeknight, please be home by 8:30 so you can say goodnight to the kids. During your time, you are not allowed to see any movie or watch an episode of a show that we have agreed to watch together. For every opportunity that you have for personal time, I must also have an opportunity. I do not need to take it, but the offer will at least be there.

These rules are something that you can easily revisit and amend as needed as you start altering your relationship dynamic. Allow space for each of you to feel heard.

3. Take your time seriously.
If taking time for self-care is not something you are used to, it is helpful to start small. Take 20 to 30 minutes every day for yourself, and take is seriously. Walk home from work instead of taking a cab and use the time to process your day so you can be more refreshed when you walk in the door. Take a long shower or go for a short run in the morning.

It is common for your personal time to affect your partner in some way, whether it mean that he or she is babysitting in your absence or simply missing time that could be spent together. You show the most respect and appreciation for having this time to yourself by being thoughtful and intentional with how you use it.

If you or your partner consistently experience negative reactions when one of you takes time for self-care, consider seeing a couple therapist to help you communicate respectfully and openly about how you can find a better balance for your relationship.

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