Self-care is a fundamental life and relationship skill that every person must understand and practice.
At its most basic level, self-care is about attending to your physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual needs, and is the first of the 5 essentials for healing I teach in the Survive & Thrive Blueprint for betrayed partners.
Self-care as an intimacy skill for women is about much more than taking care of basic needs. The kind of self-care that builds intimacy addresses wants, in addition to needs. Focusing on wants and desires brings us joy, and this particular form of self-care is vital for anyone who is facing infidelity.
Examples of self-care activities that address wants v. needs:
- Going to a museum
- Lighting a candle or using aromatherapy
- Getting a massage or manicure
- Drawing, painting, or coloring in a coloring book
- Engaging in a favorite hobby
- Reading for enjoyment
Of course, there are some self-care activities that address both needs and wants such as journalling, taking a nap, drinking a cup of tea or coffee, or engaging in a favorite sport or physical activity.
Why is self-care an intimacy skill?
When your self-care is deficient or non-existent, you lack the physical and emotional reserves to deal with everyday challenges—much less the traumatic impact of infidelity. And when you lack the kind of internal reserves that come with good self-care, you will be less content and less pleasant to be with.
Signs that self-care is weak, and how intimacy is impacted:
- Irritability, which often leads to saying or doing things you later regret.
- Attempting to control people, places, or things over which you have no control, which makes you and others frustrated and unhappy.
- Subtle or indirect attempts to get someone to do what you would like them to do rather than accepting that they have a right to be, think, or do as they wish (or protecting yourself if they are boundary-less or offensive).
- Manipulation, which is an indirect, ineffective, and often harmful way of attempting to get needs met.
- Resentment (defined by Pia Mellody as “victim anger”), which frequently leads to arguments laced with blaming and shaming.
- Criticism of others (expressed or unexpressed), which is always damaging to relationships.
- Expecting others to anticipate and/or take care of your needs rather than taking responsibility for yourself, which places you in the position of being a child in adult-adult relationships.
When your self-care is high, you have internal reserves of energy and a sense of well-being not only to experience high quality connection with others, but also to refrain from actions that damage intimacy.
When you take responsibility for your self-care and happiness, you automatically release others from any responsibility to take care of you or to make you happy—which wasn’t their job to begin with.
When you see yourself—rather than your spouse—as your source of happiness you are more pleasant to be with.
Does this mean you should pretend to be happy when you’re not? Absolutely not. But if you want to build intimacy with your spouse, you will take responsibility to make yourself happy to the best of your ability and take the focus off what your spouse is doing for you, especially during the early stages post-discovery.
Many a betrayed partner has tried—mostly unconsciously—to show her spouse how deeply unhappy, angry, and hurt she is in hopes of being heard or receiving empathy.
Unfortunately, it rarely works.
It’s simply human nature to want to distance ourselves from people who are unhappy, and this very human tendency is magnified when we know that we have a part in their unhappiness. Sadly, partners who repeatedly attempt to get their spouse to see how deeply in pain they are rarely get the validation and empathy they long for.
And this is exactly why it is crucial for you to have a community of support where you can get the validation and empathy you need and deserve as you’re building the self-care skills that foster intimacy and connection.
If you struggle to identify self-care activities that are for your pure enjoyment, ask yourself, “What am I feeling?” and “What do I want?” These two questions will serve as an inner barometer that sounds the alarm when you’re feeling depleted or irritable. These questions will also help you get you in touch with your desires.
To get started on your path to higher quality self-care and greater intimacy, make a list of 20 things you love to do for pure enjoyment. No activity is too small. If you’re stuck and can’t think of more than one or two, start by making a desire list with the sole intention of discovering what brings you joy, and not necessarily with the goal of manifesting every item on your desire list today.
For example, if “I want to have more free time” is on your desire list, what do you imagine you would be doing with more free time? Would you like to spend more time with friends, have more alone time, take up a new hobby, or engage in an activity you haven’t had time for recently?
Discover what is at the root of your desires and create a self-care list based on what you discover. If you want a new house, what would the new house give you that you don’t have now? And how can that desire be translated into even a small act of self-care today?
Once you’ve made your list of 20 self-care activities, commit to at least 3 (or more) every day. I currently commit to 6 each day. And if you’re feeling cranky, irritable, burned out, our you’re struggling with control or criticism, you are in dire need of self-care.
And don’t forget, have some fun!
Desires are sacred marching orders.
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© Vicki Tidwell Palmer, LCSW (2019)