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Self-preservation in relationships

Published:Sunday | April 15, 2012 | 12:00 AM

Heather Little-White, PhD, Contributor

It is not uncommon to hear some persons say to their partners, "I will do anything for you." This may mean that they will do it at the expense of their own needs, physical and mental capabilities. Very often in relationships, the person who is always doing and giving neglects self-care and is at risk for frustration and burnout.

What strategies can you adopt to prevent burnout? It is often difficult to believe that you would not take care of yourself in the union, contrary to vows you and your partner took for happiness. If you are giving more at the expense of your health and well-being, this is unhealthy dependency. The reverse is true if you think that someone else has the responsibility to making you happy. Your happiness rests on nurturing yourself so you can stay in touch with your inner-self. This fosters healthy interdependency so that you and your partner can connect on the same wave length even though you have developed separate identities.

Together but apart

Preserving the self or self-care is something to be enjoyed and not a task to be feared. When last have you taken time to laze in quiet space and read a book or magazine? When your partner sees you taking time to care for your needs, it energises him or her to want to do more for you to contribute to your happiness. You should try into merge your self-nurturing activities with the fun things you will do with your partner as part of your bonding. There would be no harm in arranging for both of you to be in that quiet space doing what you enjoy best.

Self-preservation at the physical or mental levels has several other benefits all of which serve to give a person identity.

1. Physical self-preservation involves safety, good health with no illnesses. This is as a result of stress reduction and lessening of resentment as your partner no longer feels solely responsible for your happiness.

2. Emotional self-preservation in posture, speech & behaviour (personal & social): When boundaries in inter-dependency are clarified, there is less conflict. Your partner can better satisfy your needs when he/she knows that are taking care of yourself.

3. Abstract self-preservation in thoughts & beliefs: Your personality and attitude are better shaped when you take of your needs and chart a course in self-identification.

If you are reluctant to embark on a self-care path, you should take time to explore beliefs and guilt surrounding your own self-care. Jennifer Louden, writing in The Couples' Comfort Book suggests that you use the sentences below to write down whatever comes to mind without censorship.

I deserve more time for myself because.

When I take time for just me I feel.

When I take time for just me, I think my partner feels.

When I spend money on myself, I feel.

When I was a child, I learned others came first when.

As you analyse the answers, you may find that you have to do some soul-searching, reflecting on conflicts that may date back to your childhood and are affecting your thought processes and actions now. Identify the changes you have to make, discuss them with your partner or with a counsellor. If you are truly convinced that it is your partner's responsibility to take care of you, you would face a conflict.

Release resentment

Louden suggests four steps towards taking responsibility for your own happiness.

1. Stop blaming your partner for your problems and frustrations. You should not find a way to cop out of your own self-distracting behaviours.

2. Make a self-nurturing list of all the things that you can do to make you happy - places you want to go, things you want to do and people you want to see.

3. Release the resentment you may feel for all the times you may have sacrificed your needs for your partner

4. Work on your independence to be happy. Each day make a commitment to a self-preservation activity.

Mirror! Mirror!

Iyanla Vanzant, in her book, Don't Give It Away, reminds you: "You are It! Never give yourself away!" She adds that "no matter what the world or people tell you about yourself, always remember that you are a delicate hardy flower. Your true essence will grow, develop and unfold as the bright blue petals open on a sun-drenched morning glory. Vanzant instructs, "when you look into your eyes in the mirror each morning and tell yourself - "I am hope"; "I am joy", "I am free"; "I am love"; "I am happy" and more important, I am me".

Life's lessons

According to Vanzant, these life lessons are useful for self-preservation.

Continuously affirm - "I feel good about myself, I take good care of myself, I am worth the best of all there is! Just because I am!"

Have fun with life and keep it simple.

Play, laugh and always have one good friend with whom you can have lunch.

Always love for the sake of it, not fearing the pain.

Give your best! Do your best! Be your best!

If ever there is a day you can't figure out what to do, throw your hands in the air and dance! God's angels are your partners!

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