One of the key words that has governed most of the last several months has been “self-care.” My profession is keen on it: as a rule, mental health caregivers are required to prioritise their well-being because that is what they rely on to offer the highest quality of ethical care.
Attending to the Self -- the individual -- is such a big deal that there is an entire genre of books, podcasts and other publications that prioritise ‘self-help.’ Even in my own practice, I encourage my clients to begin to identify what they need, and then follow by attending to those needs.
However, I have often heard it said that the pursuit of self-help/identity has turned us into people who care only about the self. As you can imagine, this can be a challenge -- in and out of the bedroom -- for a couple trying to stay connected or perhaps even reconnect.
It did get me thinking, how can self-help be of benefit not just to you as an individual but to the relationship as well? What would happen to a couple if self-care became a ‘mandatory’ part of the union?
Finally, what would it mean if both members of the couple took the responsibility of understanding some of what makes them happy so that the responsibility did not fall on their partner to figure out?
Here are a couple of thoughts to consider along those lines:
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1. Make room for your chosen partner
Even though it may begin with self, self-care can and must make room for the “other” in the relationship. In other words, part of the value of understanding, loving, forgiving and accepting yourself as you are is so that you may make room for your chosen other. After all, you cannot offer that which you do not have.
How can you forgive the other (your partner) if you have not yet learned that you too have made and will continue to make mistakes and therefore need forgiveness?
The value of self-help here is to learn how to stand in your truth -- no matter how uncomfortable -- so that you may develop some self-compassion which you can then learn to extend to the ‘other’.
A relationship in which people can hold themselves and others with gentleness, kindness and understanding is one in which both can grow together and apart. One big bonus is that it translates to better, more connected sex.
2. Understand what pleases you
Speaking of better, more connected sex, I would like to remind you that many people who struggle with sexual (dys)function also struggle with the concept of pleasure in general.
The reasons for this are as varied as the people themselves -- sexual/other trauma, negative and often false beliefs about sex and sexuality, strict upbringing, negative experiences with members of the same/opposite sex e.g. difficult break up, romantic rejection or even a lack of physical/emotional space growing up thereby denying you a sense of autonomy.
Again, I ask, how can you truly understand and enjoy sexual pleasure with your partner if you don’t yet understand yourself and what pleases you?
Attending to yourself is therefore critical, and there are many sexual and non-sexual ways to do this e.g. masturbate (if you’re comfortable with it and it does not violate your sense of self), get a massage (this is a great non-sexual opportunity to discover your true feelings about touch).
3. Communicate with your partner
Some people discover that touch is pleasurable to them -- which they can then transfer to the bedroom e.g. during foreplay -- while others quickly discover that touch is a rather uncomfortable feeling.
If this is the case, you are better able to communicate it to your partner and find other non-touchy ways to express affection outside of sex e.g. flirting through other means instead of hand holding or hugging or even avoiding the sort of sexual touch that simply does not work for you.
It may sound simple but what good is it if you start to avoid sex with your partner because they insist on kissing you during sex while you would rather just concentrate on the sex itself?
The point is, explore your pleasure points -- both in and out of the bedroom -- so that you can begin to spice up your love life consciously instead of going with a flow that could be rubbing you the wrong way subconsciously.
4. Remember to share
It is key to remember that a couple includes two (or more) of you and yet it isn’t a 50/50 situation but 100/100 investment; you must both attend to yourselves as well as attend to each other.
You must continue to invest in all things self and then apply these two life principles: do unto others (your partner) as you would like them to do unto you + love your neighbor (your partner) as you love yourself.
As you begin your journey of self-discovery, love, forgiveness, compassion and acceptance, my hope for you is that you will enjoy the fruits of any clarity and insight that you receive, and then remember to share them with your partner as you embrace both “me” and “we” in ways that pay off in your love life.
I therefore wish you a happier, more insightful relationship and a more fulfilling sex life.
Maggie Gitu is a Marriage, Family & Sex Therapist (MAMFT) and can be reached at
[email protected] or at @MaggieTheTherapist on Instagram