Befriend Yourself First

It’s so true. When you get married you’re not just signing up for one marriage, you’re signing up for many marriages. It’s going to change from romantic infatuation to intimate bonding, to living together, to having children. It’ll change through family, through aging bodies and changing endocrine systems. Each one of those changes is associated with new structures of consciousness around how you hold yourself in the marriage, and how you hold your partner”*.

1500 words = 6 minutes to read.

Jeff Salzman interviews Dr. Keith Witt (a licensed psychologist and marriage family therapist who has practiced psychotherapy in Santa Barbara for over thirty-five years) about intimate relationships. Dr. Witt presents the idea that marriage is particularly challenging because the relationship needs to be successfully reorganized, consistently, by both people, in order for it to keep working.

He goes on to say “Despite the constant change, studies have shown us there are specific characteristics present in successful, happy relationships. Researcher Nate Bagley found the following things in common:

  1. 1.      The individuals were dedicated to self care
  2. 2.      They were committed to helping each other get through anything
  3. 3.      They trusted each other 
  4. 4.      They had intentionality. They didn’t take their love for granted. They did something every day to show love for each other”

The first point about “Self Care” is HUGE, and one I encourage with all my clients, single or coupled. What in the world is this ‘Self Care’ and why is it so important? In my own practice I refer to it as ones’ ability to ‘Self regulate’. In short it is the practice of managing our emotions so that they do not manage or get the better of us. It is the habit of nurturing, protecting and caring for ourselves the way a kind mother looks after her child i.e. with compassion, gentleness and empathy. It is the capacity to be accountable for our emotional, physical and spiritual wellbeing. When we care about someone, he or she really matters to us. Caring includes noticing, taking an interest in, and responding to specific needs of that person. It includes a genuine concern for what happens to someone and a hope for positive outcomes.**

So, Self Care/Regulation excludes:

  • beating ourselves up emotionally,
  • Self hating,
  • Self harming,
  • Self neglect,
  • Self deprivation,
  • substance abuse,
  • addictions
  • aggression
  • not recognizing our own needs as equally valid,
  • not standing up for ourselves,
  • not pursuing our dreams,
  • not saying ‘no’ when we need to,
  • not saying ‘yes’ when we want to,
  • not being assertive and asking for what we want
  • not creating healthy habits and lifestyles,
  • not channeling our anger into something constructive
  • not allowing ourselves to grieve when we need to
  • not embracing the small things that bring us joy
  • not making deliberate choices in the direction of our happiness
  • not living someone else’s values/hopes/expectations
  • not living our truth
  • not finding ways to rejuvenate and restore
  • not creating time or space for peacefulness to rest and relax
  • not exploring and expressing our creativity
  • not connecting often enough with people and experiences that uplift and inspire us
  • not noticing what makes us feel empowered
  • not caring about what makes us feel empowered
  • not taking responsibility for our lives
  • not giving ourselves the opportunity to be productive
  • not maintaining our dignity
  • not honouring our integrity
  • tolerating abuse
  • allowing others to treat us badly
  • not respecting ourselves
  • not setting boundaries
  • trying to control everything,
  • lying to yourself,
  • exposing yourself to media that upsets you
  • allowing fear to control us
  • keeping ourselves small
  • expecting someone/something else to make us happy
  • not taking responsibility for our lives
  • unable to disappoint others in order to live an authentic life

When the storms/tornados of life hit us hard, the best person to look to for the job of healing and getting through it, is our Self.  If we are not managing our own anger, fear, anxiety, depression and stress and instead lashing out on our partners, it is the equivalent of beating the s**t out of our relationship. We can look to our partners to support us, but the journey we take to overcome life’s hardships we take alone. Being able to depend on oneself for comfort, strength and consistent reliable courage, is a must for the health of successful, happy relationship.

We all experience external stressors on us as individuals (e.g. financial instability, physical health issues, emotionally needy and demanding children, job loss, death of a loved one etc.) that impacts in a devastating way on our state of mind. It could even be something less traumatic: a fight with a friend or a long, difficult and overwhelming day at the office.  The incident, chronic or acute, can have us plunging into shock, anger, fear or grief which makes our ability to be emotionally available for another person virtually impossible. Our heads are full and busy processing all the voices that live inside us, ‘why me, what if, I ought to, I should, what now, how could I be so vicious/ignorant/pathetic, how could he be so vicious/ignorant/pathetic, how do I solve this, what’s the best strategy forward?’

Then we get home to a mess. Our partner forgot to hang up the laundry, left the lid off the toothpaste and overcooked the chicken- again. There is a trail of crumbs in the kitchen from this morning’s breakfast, the pets have not been fed and the TV is so loud you can’t hear yourself think. All hell breaks loose.  How can they be so useless? How can you have such a lazy slob for a partner? And all those thoughts come rolling off your tongue before you have even had a chance to sensor it. It provides momentary relief to get some of the frustration off your chest AND you get to piss your partner off which is really great because they have managed to really Piss you off. So, you lash out some more just to drive the point home. You vent and vomit out all the pressure you are experiencing in your head onto your partner and the relationship. What a relief. As the saying goes, “we take it out on the people closest to us”.

The excuse ‘you made me angry or provoked me’ is well used as an explanation for bad behaviour. All feelings are valid, yes. But not all behaviours are. Feeling upset, no matter how infuriated, does not make aggressive hurtful behaviour permissible.  Acting out in an aggressive hurtful way is one sure way to destroy our relationships. We can all express negative emotions in negative or positive ways.  Self care/self regulation means we are capable of finding ways to process and express our emotions, no matter how negative they are, in a constructive way.

The cycles of life and duality on earth guarantees we will go through good times and bad. Through pleasure and pain. Summer and winter. Floods and drought. It is through the challenging times that we need to be most SELF caring so that our relationships are not destroyed along with our hopefulness for a better future. When the going gets tough, the tough don’t take it out on their partners, they take care of themselves so that they can make it through to the other side; becoming a stronger, wiser version of their original Self.

‘Self care’ might sound ‘selfish’ but in fact it is the exact opposite. I spoke about selflessness in a previous post: Selflessness. Noble or Nonsensical. It is not being so self absorbed that we are unable to extend ourselves to another. It is that we are so fulfilled, empowered and happy that we are in a position to give much more of ourselves. We are literally overflowing with care, compassion and kindness to others because we have taken such good care of ourselves. If we cannot have a good relationship with our Self based on positive regard and respect, how will it be possible to do that for another?

Emotional wellbeing flows when we have a safe, secure, enduring experience of at least one person caring about us. And it starts with you and me loving ourselves. When we know how to love and hold ourselves we can cope with whatever happens to us rather than being blocked/thwarted/stuck by it. ‘Individuals dedicated to Self care’ are able to accommodate the ever changing environment of long-tem relationships. Feeling worthy, confident, self assured and comfortable in our own skin, we are in a powerful position to navigate the peaks and troughs of our evolving relationships.  I invite you to try it and let me know the difference it makes to you.

*For more of the interview between Jeff Salzman and Dr Witt see more at:

**‘How to Be an Adult in Love: Letting Love in Safely and Showing It Recklessly’: David Richo, Pg: xiv