For the last few weeks on The Gottman Relationship Blog, we’ve been talking about self care. This week, we’ve tackled the subject of friendship. See Zach Brittle’s Relationship Alphabet column from Monday here and yesterday’s exercise on the meaning of friendship here. Today, we tie these subjects together! 

So, how are friendship and self care connected? It’s pretty simple. Dr. Julie Gottman explains it succinctly:

When we take good care of ourselves, we fill ourselves up, which in turn energizes us so that we can give to others.

Most of us want to be good to our friends and partners, to show love, kindness, and reciprocal generosity to the people who bring laughter and joy into our lives. We want to show our affection to those who show us theirs, and to express appreciation for character traits, unique quirks, and senses of humor that never fail to make us smile. 

In short, we want to turn towards each other and be there for those who are there for us.

But too often, we find ourselves at a loss: too busy and overwhelmed to turn towards those we care about, sometimes too blinded by stress to see the natural give and take of friendship as anything but obligation.

This is when we stop enjoying activities, going on adventures, or exploring together (engaging in grown-up play!), and start treating our friends like therapists or office assistants, in extreme cases even becoming opportunistic or overly dependent. This is when we start feeling really guilty.

And this is where mindfulness comes in.

When we notice signs of these easily recognizable patterns, it’s time to stop before we fall in completely! It’s time to recognize our boundaries, and give ourselves a break. In other words, it’s time for some self care. It’s also a great time to practice some healthy communication skills, both internally and externally.

Internally, communication about self care might sound like this: 

I know there are a million things to do right now, but I’m at the end of my leash, and it’s probably better to dedicate this afternoon to well-deserved bubble-bath than to dedicate this evening to a huge fight with everyone I know.

Lots of people (especially those not yet in the habit) find it difficult to ask for a break… but the discomfort you might feel in asking for a bubble bath will certainly wane once it has you submerged in its delightfully foamy embrace. You can ponder the proverb, “practice makes perfect,” as you flick soap bubbles expertly across the tub. Whatever it takes.

Externally, communication about self care might sound like this: 

Honey, I need to take a bath/go on a walk, and relax from this crazy work-day before dinner this evening.

Remember: There’s nothing wrong in needing some space in your break, and there are ways to communicate about it without hurting your partner. 

Communicating about space might sound like this: 

Honey, I need to spend tomorrow at the spa/in the gym/gardening so that I can release some of this tension and return more relaxed, energized, and loving with you.

Keep us in mind this weekend as you celebrate your relationships with friends, your partner, and yourself. Enjoy this glorious weather, and remember:

Most of the shadows of this life are caused by standing in one’s own sunshine.    
– Ralph Waldo Emerson                         

More in The Archives
Weekend Homework Assignment: Friendship and Self Care

Ellie Lisitsa is a staff writer at The Gottman Institute and a regular contributor to The Gottman Relationship Blog. Ellie is pursuing her B.A. in Psychology with an emphasis on Cognitive Dissonance at Reed College in Portland, Oregon.