Relationships are vital to our health and happiness. With that said, our relationships with ourselves are no less important than our relationships with others.

As we discussed on Thursday, autonomy is necessary for personal growth. It’s great to have time and space to ourselves. There are moments in which we all know that ignoring the need to recharge would be a terrible idea!

Moreover, taking time to do our “own thing” once in a while can actually benefit us and make us appreciate our relationships with our partners more! If we work or play apart for a bit, we have a chance to miss each other and feel extra glad to reunite. (Added bonus: something new to talk about!)

On the other hand, as we all know, too much space can be destructive. And a sign of underlying problems. Whether space is created out of fear of losing ourselves or each other, out of mistrust or insecurity about our relationships, self-isolation rarely ends well, and the barriers we build to protect ourselves usually end up hurting everyone involved.

The fear that we can’t provide our partners with all that we “should” is another common source of barrier-building. Rifts are made out of guilt and resentment, which in turn spring forth from misconception.

Remember: No one can provide their partner with everything. A single person can’t fulfill another’s every need. 

Rather than distancing ourselves from one another in hard times, acknowledging that we are all human (with natural strengths and limitations) and reaching out to each other in our communities will naturally grow and strengthen relationship intimacy.

It makes sense that unhappy couples are typically isolated, cut off from friends and family. Their relationships have grown either codependent or overly distant, and when the going gets rough, the echo-chamber in which they have become trapped may exacerbate problems. Detachment and a lack of support from others often limits perspective and feels destabilizing and alienating.

Happy couples, “Masters of Relationships,” often have supportive circles of friends who recognize, affirm, and celebrate their bond. 

Escaping from the false dichotomy of independence vs. dependence – and reaching a happy state of interdependence in the context of a larger, supportive community – allows couples to experience growth: to encourage one another to explore and follow personal dreams.

To reach this happy realm, couples must build a strong, secure sense of shared trust. 

Today, we’d like to share an activity that may help you build this trust, lending strength and stability to your relationship.

Though you may have some difficulties forming new patterns in your communication about certain topics, the results will pay off enormously. To begin with, try the following simple changes. You know the drill – these are just examples. Every relationship is unique! Feel free to improvise:

  • When your partner says, “I’m feeling so stressed! I’m going to go on a run,” try this:“Great, I’ll watch the kids! When you’re back, I’ll take my turn?” 
  • When your partner says, “I’d like to go see Mike tonight, he’s been asking me to get drinks with him for a while,” say, “Sure! I’ll hold down the fort, maybe do some of that laundry. Could I see Linda tomorrow?”
  • When your partner asks, “Could we go to that BBQ for Tess’s birthday tomorrow?”take the time and go – the two of you deserve a break. If you’d like, you can add,“That sounds wonderful. Could we work on the taxes later this weekend, though?”

Try it this weekend! 

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Weekend Homework Assignment: Taking Care of Each Other by Taking Care of Ourselves

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.