Being single for nearly all of my twenties meant I got pretty good at taking care of myself. I got out of bed on my own, paid my own bills, and fixed my own meals. I was #adulting. I was a modern, independent woman.
Then I got married.
After a decade of fending for myself, it has taken only one year of being a wife for me to toss out my self-reliance and learn how to be taken care of. I know this makes me sound like a sellout, but let me explain.
My husband is happy to pay the bills; he is a pretty good cook and is happy to make dinner several nights a week; he makes my morning smoothie way better than I ever did; and I have found that I prefer his voice over the sound of my alarm in the morning. Sounds pretty good, right? It also sounds a lot like a fear many women have about losing their independence after marriage. It can be scary to let the man we love sweep us off our feet (literally) and relinquish the “it’s all up to me” attitude we once had when we were making it on our own.
But researchers such as Dr. John Gottman, author of The 7 Principles of Making Marriage Work, say that interdependence—relying on one another—is essential to a happy, healthy relationship. Allowing our partner to help us, even when we don’t absolutely need their help, is good for building intimacy and connection. That being said, interdependence requires a mutual reliance. This means that just because I’m no longer writing the checks for cable, I still have to contribute toward our interdependence in other ways—ways that are unique to my strengths. I may have relinquished my morning smoothie-making ritual, but I’m the master toilet bowl cleaner. And it’s not just the chores we are talking about here. My husband values my insight when it comes to problems at work, and I always know he will make himself emotionally available when I need him.
But just because you rely on each other doesn’t mean you have to do everything together. One of the keys to successful interdependence is making sure you’re taking care of yourself in the areas your partner simply cannot. I have learned the hard way that I’m not the only one who suffers when I relinquish responsibility for the things I own—things such as my health and faith—in my marriage. Here are a few ways you need to take care of yourself so that you can better support the interdependence of your marriage.
01. Take control of your physical and mental health.
Have you ever told your guy you want to work on your physical fitness and in some way suggested that you need his help? I have, and let me tell you, I always regret it.
“Why? Do you think I need to work out??” I ask him in an ominous tone when he suggests that I stick to my workout routine instead of sleeping in. Instantly he knows that he walked into a trap, and he desperately tries to find his way out. “Um, no, I don’t think you should work out. Well, you asked me to help you. You are always happier when you are in a good workout routine . . .” my poor husband tries to explain as we both confront the reality that I can’t depend on him for my internal motivation.
Working out not only keeps me physically healthy, but it also makes me more optimistic and resilient from day to day. But at the end of the day, I have to choose my personal health for me and as a way to ensure I can show up every day for my man. That has to come from me, as a gift, and no one else.
02. Pray separately.
It makes sense that couples who share similar faiths and spiritualities should use that commonality as a point of connection, as a way to build shared meaning or “we-ness,” as Dr. Gottman puts it. That being said, no two people have the same exact way of communicating with God or the Universe. As individuals, we are going to have different things to say and a different way of saying it. We are going to need to hear different things as well.
I have discovered that in order for me to be spiritually fulfilled, I need to carve out a quiet space in my day, alone. It’s great if you and your guy both have the same faith, and it’s OK if you don’t. What matters most is that you take responsibility for your own spiritual life. When you feel spiritually nourished, you can be there for your man if ever his faith is shaken.
03. Take time for yourself.
It’s normal for a couple in love to want to do everything with one another, especially early on in dating or marriage. But setting aside time for yourselves independently (as agonizing as this may be) will only strengthen your relationship.
While I didn’t know I needed it until I missed it, I need one night a week for self-care. This could mean painting my nails, doing a face mask, or reading (or all three), and I also need quality time set aside with my girlfriends. When I finally started advocating for this time, I saw that my husband really needed the same thing (minus the face mask though). It doesn’t matter if you’re an extrovert or an introvert, spending time away from one another—either having quality time with friends or learning new skills or enjoying a hobby—gives both you and your guy needed time to recharge and grow as individual people.
It’s probably not on the top of your list of things to do before marriage, but as you learn about how you will support one another in sickness and in health, don’t forget to make a list of things you have to do for yourself. Your future marriage will thank you.
Photo Credit: Nirav Patel