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Mothers, if you are married or partnered, I know a form of self care that will give you more energy back than you expend doing it.  Want to know what it is?

Take care of your relationship.

I know.  You’re already taking care of a TON of things.  I know you are worried you don’t get enough “self” care.  Maybe you can’t see how would you fit relationship care in.  But imagine that your relationship is the air you breath, the water you drink, and the ecosystem that sustains you.  When you neglect it, or taint it, it impacts you, too.  It’s good for YOU to care for your relationship.  And when your relationship is well cared for, by both partners, you both experience benefits that self care alone could never provide.

Isn’t it funny how everyone tells us, including ourselves, that we need to be doing more self care?  And yet most of us feel we come up short on this one consistently.  We think we need it, everyone tells us we need it, but we don’t seem to get enough of it.  What’s up with that?

Maybe we struggle with self care because it’s not the end all be all of feeling better about ourselves and our lives.  Maybe self care is overrated and limited when it comes to being the remedy for every mother’s overwhelm and exhaustion.

In my view, we need something in addition to, or a different model for, self care.  In our individualistic society, we overlook the impact that the quality of our closest relationships have on our well being.  What so many of us really need is relationship care.  

A lot of us have figured out how to do our lives in a way that works for us as individuals.  But few of us can say we know how to deepen our relationships, or utilize our partners for the enormous resource that another human being truly is.  Even less of us would say that after years of monogamy and raising a family that we feel inspired and nourished by our marriage.  That seems like a big problem to me.

Why would having unsatisfying, stressed, or a struggling relationship be a problem?

For starters, our physical health and well being is impacted by our experience in our relationships, especially our primary relationships.  Big time.  Our emotional and relational experiences impact our immune system, endocrine system, hormones, neurotransmitters, muscular structure, organs, and every cell in our physical body.  Relational stress, particularly within the relationships we rely on the most, is one of the chronic forms of stress that impacts our health from a young age onwards.

And one of the primary complaints of mothers is that they are exhausted, lack energy for their lives, and are pushing themselves through each day.  Post partum autoimmune disease, depression, and other health problems continue to rise as well.  So if you’re wiped out and not recovering your energy from the babies, sleep deprivation, work, and everything else, attending to your primary relationship could be a huge support in your recovery.

Maybe it feels like you don’t have space or time to really attend to your marriage.  Maybe you joke about how you fantasize about sleep now, not sex.  Maybe you just want to be left alone after a day with your kids, and feel like you have “nothing left to give.”  You, my dear, are the one who needs relationship care the MOST.

I found out I had an autoimmune condition three years ago.  The traditional medical model could offer me no explanation for why I had it or how to recover from it.  I have searched for and found many other resources that have helped.  I have always been interested in the study of the intersection of mind and body at the biological and psychological level, so my illness and interests took me even deeper into that research.

I have since learned a ton about stress and the role it has in creating disease in the body.  The more I learned about stress, particularly relationship stress, and it’s impact on our immune system, the more I saw how my strategy in relationships needed to evolve.  ASAP.

You see, I have been a very independent person most of my life.  Since I was a little girl, I was acknowledged for being self reliant, capable, and responsible.  I provided a lot of relief to my parents, teachers, and employers, all of whom have appreciated how little I needed from them and how much I took on.  My strategy worked for them, and it worked for me.

And, that strategy has also been stressful for me.  I didn’t see or feel that, however, until I was a mother of two kids under two, working part time, and wondering how the fuck anybody does this.  Despite having enormous privilege on many levels, I was tanking.

Reinforcing the foundation of my marriage has been a huge, if not the most significant day in and day out factor, in restoring my health.  So much so that I am starting to think one of the most powerful life giving resources we have as humans is a deeply nourishing relationship with another person.  Thats right, I don’t think diet, exercise, or lifestyle strategies can come close to the healing power that a mutually loving relationship with my husband can provide.

It became clear that what I need to replenish is deep connection, not more alone time.  I need to rest in the love and care of my relationship with my husband, especially during these years of providing so much for my children.  I don’t need more distance or time away from my family, I need more nourishing connection with them. This goes against the typical advice mothers receive to take time for ourselves, take time away from our family, and to do more things alone.

I had done a ton on my own in my life.  I had that down.  It’s not that independence, self reliance, and being competent on my own don’t have a place, those traits absolutely served me and still do.  But to actually shift my health towards healing and replenishing required getting familiar with and more skilled at interdependence, co-regulation, and increased vulnerability and reliance on my partner.

The more I learn about the importance of our primary relationships through studying adult attachment, the more concerned I feel when I hear women bad mouth their husbands.  Need to vent about your marriage?  By all means talk about your struggles, share them with friends you trust, seek out support.  I am all for that.  But then, you must DO something about it.  Do not keep building resentment inside, thinking that you are just supposed to tolerate and overlook things that upset you so as not to rock the boat, or whatever your justifications are.  Your health and well being, along with your day to day enjoyment of your life, are paying the price.  And you can do something about that.

If you are married, and want to positively impact your health, well being, and overall life satisfaction, in my opinion the best way to do that is to work on the relationship. Committed relationship is a brilliant design that we can use to move towards health in a fulfilling way–if we learn how to do it.  

Start to work towards and create the relationship you claim you want.  A mother who feels loved, cared for, and valued is one of the most powerful creatures on the planet.  When she transmits that love and self worth to her children and family, to those who know her and work with her, and to the society that tells her she’s not quite “enough,” this whole system starts to evolve.

Not only that, you will watch your vitality come back and those health issues will improve.

In order to feel energized, capable, and inspired about the domestic grind of my life, the challenges I face over time, I must have an inspired partnership with my husband.  Together, we work at cultivating the relationship we both want.  Our relationship is an ongoing, evolving process that requires communication, learning, and growth.  It isn’t easy, but neither is being depleted, uninspired, and facing a health crisis.

So the next time you find yourself saying, “I need more self care,” turn towards your partner and ask yourself if your relationship could use some of your attentive care, too.  Relationship care is like efficient multitasking: good for you, your marriage, your kids, and those around you.  And that is something that every busy mother can get on board with.

Resources:  “When The Body Says No: Exploring The Stress-Disease Connection