Maressa Brown is a journalist and astrologer who's a regular lifestyle contributor and resident astrologer for InStyle. She has nearly two decades of professional experience writing, reporting, and editing lifestyle content for a variety of digital and print consumer-facing publications including Parents, Shape, Astrology.com, and more.
When you hear the term “self-care,” chances are you think of scheduling a way overdue pedicure or maybe taking a weekend yoga class. And all too often, it’s illustrated not as a must-do but as something that would be nice to do if you can somehow squeeze it into your hectic schedule. But taking time to take care of yourself is really a must for any healthy relationship — whether you’re hoping to swipe right on the future love of your life or you already have a significant other.
It’s important that you invest as much time and energy into your own care as you give to the people you love, says Dana McNeil, PsyD, LMFT, founder of The Relationship Place in San Diego. “Self-care is not a luxury or an indulgence, because if you don’t have any gas in the emotional tank left you are not going to be able to show up and give back,” notes McNeil. “You can’t physically, emotionally, or mentally give to others if you are wiped out.”
And not only can prioritizing your physical, emotional, and mental well-being preempt burnout, but it can also set you up for a more satisfying dating life or relationship.
“Being connected to yourself is key to having relationships that are fulfilling,” explains Stephanie Macadaan, a licensed marriage and family therapist in the Bay Area, California. “When you can identify, express, and ask for your needs to be met, you can connect with others in an authentic way. You can take care of yourself versus relying on others to try to guess your wants, which can often lead to disappointment and disconnection.”
Here, several self-care habits to consider incorporating into your routine that can bolster your love life.
Drinking enough water, moving your body, and eating nutrient-dense foods is often touted as the best way to feel your best, but caring for yourself physically is connected to your relationships, as well, says Kederian.
After all, if you’re not caring for your body and feeling well physically, it can be nearly impossible to show up fully in a partnership. Kederian recommends finding a practice that soothes your nervous system, such as yoga, meditation, prayer, journaling, and acupuncture.
She also recommends finding time to get sunlight and be active daily, as it’ll boost your mood and positivity, which can lead not only a sunnier outlook but improved self-image. These habits will help boost confidence when you're in the dating process too, says Kederian.
Any kind of physical self-care allows you to build more comfort and confidence in your body, points out Lauren Cook, PsyD, MMFT, a San Diego-based psychologist. “I see so many folks who are so detached from their bodies,” she notes. “They’re so in their head that they don’t know how to be in their bodies, whether that’s sexually, emotionally, and certainly [in ways in which] those tie together.”
For that reason, she recommends engaging in activities that will boost your comfort level with your own body. That could be as simple as looking at yourself in the mirror when you’re getting out of the shower or engaging in self-pleasure (whether that involves touching your body sensually or enjoying full-blown solo sex). “This helps you certainly when you’re with a partner and you’re trying to build a [physical] relationship,” she notes.
“Continuing to build curiosity and learning throughout your life is so important when it comes to mental self-care,” explains Cook.
Think about how stagnant life can feel, especially in the fall and winter, when you’re in a continuous loop of work, watch Netflix, eat dinner, sleep, repeat. The antidote to this — and a valid, useful form of self-care that can boost your dating life and relationships — is seeking intellectual stimulation, explains Cook.
Learning how to sit with your emotions and getting comfortable with vulnerability are valuable investments of your time, and it opens you up to being vulnerable in a relationship too.
She recommends reaching out to friends and loved ones and pursuing deeper conversations that go beyond small talk. Not only will the experience bolster your bond but it also improves your ability to connect emotionally and to be vulnerable with others — a skill that’s undoubtedly helpful in romantic relationships.
“Learning how to sit with your emotions and getting comfortable with vulnerability are valuable investments of your time, and it opens you up to being vulnerable in a relationship too,” she points out. “Great relationships are built on trust, communication, play, [a shared] sense of curiosity, so if you can cultivate that in yourself and then share that with a partner, you’re setting yourself up for success.”
By committing to self-work and meeting with a therapist on a regular basis, you can’t help but gain self-awareness, which Macadaan refers to as a “superpower” that’s particularly helpful when seeking a partner or already building a life with someone.
By talking through everyday situations and past patterns, you can come to understand more about your inner self, including ways you may block vulnerability and connection, and how to implement healthy relationship dynamics, says Macadaan, all of which will set you up for a more successful bonding experience in the present.
Christie Kederian, Ph.D., a nationally-renowned psychologist and licensed marriage and family therapist specializing in the psychology of relationships, adds that everyday life with a long-term partner can set off a variety of triggers — and therapy can help you understand their root cause. “Are they about your partner or are they about your past?” she asks. “You really have to know the difference, so you don’t end up self-sabotaging in relationships.”
And if you’re single, therapy can help you gain clarity on the relationships you’ve seen modeled for you over the course of your life and how that connects to what you’re looking for — and why, says Kederian. “Having that objective space where you can almost re-meet yourself is going to help you attract the type of partner that you want to build a life with,” she explains.
If you’re feeling inexplicably blue as the days get shorter and darker, you might feel guilt or frustration. Even experiencing excitement when a friend bails on your happy hour plan could make you feel a bit shameful. In these moments, you have an opportunity to build an emotional self-care habit: accepting feelings as they come up.
“Instead of seeing emotions — like happiness or excitement — as ‘good’ or other emotions — like anger, disappointment, or fear — as ‘bad,’ build your bandwidth to experience your emotions as you do, no judgment,” says Cook.
After all, those emotions are bound to arise when you’re dating or in a relationship, and being in touch with your feelings and inner knowing can make it easier to navigate challenges in your love life. “If you can tune into your body and your head’s reaction to feeling excited about a date or feeling nervous or scared about a date, that’s all really important information,” says Cook.
Even once you’ve gotten into a LTR, this practice will benefit your bond. As Cook explains, “It allows you to integrate and apply that into the relationship as well, so that you can start sharing feelings in your relationship — and being seen in that particular way.”
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