Marriage takes two, but for a marriage to succeed, both spouses need to practice emotional self-care. Here's how to start

It’s OK to say it: “This is hard.

The last several weeks have been tough as people are dealing with the realities of the coronavirus, quarantine and the loss of independence and control. So, if you’re feeling stressed, stop and take a moment to breathe. Then check out these tips to help you practice emotional self-care during this difficult time.

Why is emotional self-care so important?

Your emotions are like water in a glass. Normally, you wouldn’t fill a glass to the brim. You’d leave a bit of room for the water to slosh around. If you get bumped, some water might spill out … but that’s OK. It’s not a big problem. Now, imagine the glass filled to overflowing. You have a problem. The water is spilling everywhere and making a mess. If you tried pouring more water in the glass, you’d only make an even bigger mess.

Your emotions — like the water in the glass — spill over when life overwhelms us. Emotional self-care is learning when to turn off the water before the glass overflows.

Think about all the challenges you’ve faced over the past few weeks. Is your glass full? It is overflowing with stress and negative emotions? Sometimes, those emotions spill over into your marriage and affect your relationship with your spouse. That’s why emotional self-care is important.

Isn’t “self-care” selfish?

Doesn’t the Bible say we should be selfless and care for others? Yes, it’s true that the Bible tells us to “bear one another’s burdens.” It’s also filled with stories of women and men who cry out to God when they’re dealing with difficult times.

Remembering that Jesus practiced self-care is also important. The Bible tells us He went to the mountains to pray. He fell asleep in a boat. And He encouraged His disciples to “come apart and rest.”

God cares about you and your emotions. Since that’s true, we should care for ourselves. You can only give to your spouse when you are healthy and whole. So, accept Jesus’ invitation to “come away and rest.”

What is good self-care?

Erin Smalley, counselor and spokesperson for Focus on the Family’s marriage ministry, describes proper self-care this way: “Self-care is doing two things: doing what brings you rest and doing what brings you life. For me, doing things like putting puzzles together, reading or having a deep conversation gives me rest while something as simple as taking a walk brings me life.” Self-care can also include day-to-day activities such as:

  • Catching negative thoughts when they start and challenging them with Truth

  • Breathing deeply to relax

  • Being mindful of your situation

  • Meditating on Scripture

  • Exercising

Self-care doesn’t mean being selfish and stealing time from your spouse. Instead, good self-care refreshes you so that when you and your spouse connect, you can give him or her the time and attention needed to strengthen your marriage.

Think back to the image of the glass of water. Is your emotional “glass” full, overflowing or just right? It may take time to gain control of some stress, turmoil and change. But practice good self-care today by filling your heart with the “living water” found in Jesus Christ, then look for things that give you rest and bring you life. It’ll make a difference in your marriage. “You can’t give what you don’t have,” Smalley says. “So, go back to the ‘living water’ and fill up.”

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