Many couples have reported that the most profoundly life-changing lesson they’ve taken away from Focus on the Family’s Hope Restored marriage intensives has to do with the importance of good self-care. There’s a reason this piece of the marital puzzle is so crucial: only when your own cup is filled are you able to fill the cup of your spouse, your children, and other people.
Far from being selfish, good self-care is a godly thing. It’s implied in the two Great Commandments with which Christ summed up the law: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength;” and “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:30, 31). Good relationships result when all three of these pursuits are kept in balance. We have to love God and love others with the same energy that we love ourselves.
Self-care is what you do in the spaces between the bumps and jars of interpersonal relationship. It’s what happens inside your personal bubble of self-responsibility when you have a chance to pull back and retreat from the rough and tumble of everyday life. The relationship experts overseeing our Hope Restored intensives have reduced the process to a simple five-step “Care Cycle”:
- Start by being conscious of what’s going on inside of you. If someone has “pushed your button,” stop and get a handle on your emotions. There’s no need to analyze those emotions at this point. Just be aware that an alarm is going off.
- Embrace your feelings. Recognize their value as a source of information about your current psychological condition.
- Let God and others assist you in your efforts to understand and deal with your emotions. Make sure that your spouse is a member of that team.
- Pay attention to your feelings. Try to interpret their significance by asking yourself a few pointed questions: What am I feeling? Is this feeling familiar? Is it valid, or have I created it and thrust it upon myself? What is it that I really want right now?
- That last question leads to the final step. Make up your mind to do something calculated to give you a chance to achieve your deepest desires while simultaneously enabling you to preserve your integrity. If your plan of action doesn’t work, go back to the beginning of the cycle and start over.
As you go through this process, remember that you are powerless to change anybody except yourself. Assume responsibility for your own well-being, and you’ll discover that the flip side of that coin is freedom – freedom to be you and to love others out of the resulting peace and wholeness.