As a wife and a mom bent on being both emotionally and physically healthy, it didn’t take me long to discover that my aspirations for self-care and intentional rhythms in my life didn’t mean squat if my husband wasn’t on board. Our life has been nomadic to say the least. In 7 years of marriage we have moved 8 times (not counting semi-settled stages for a month or so here and there) living in 3 states, 2 countries, and even a stint touring the country coast to coast in a van. It’s been a steep learning curve as we’ve each figured out how the other works, what makes us feel fulfilled, what we need from one another, and how to function well, but we’ve learned a bit along the way. Now living in East Africa with a very active toddler and another baby on the way, this has become even more important to us!
Self-care is a journey—just like marriage. It ebbs and flows and requires grace and flexibility and constant evolution. Here’s some of the foundational principles I suggest to anyone seeking to be more mindful in their marriage:
Learn about each other: I am a personality-assessment junkie, and it’s definitely proved for the best. Knowing my (and my husband’s) Myers-Briggs, Enneagram, and preferred Conflict Management Style has given me a vast amount of useful knowledge when it comes to how to best support my husband and help him function well. At the same time, it helps me understand what I truly need, how best to ask for it, and what the best use of my time will be. It’s like learning your spouse’s self care love language- a bit more complex, but just as important to the health of your relationship. I highly recommend investing some time and study into these ideas- see what a difference it can make in how you relate to and understand one another’s needs!
Help each other: I am a through-and-through introvert, while my husband leans more towards extroversion. I know that my husband will start to feel antsy and unfulfilled without a certain amount of intentional social time during any given week. At the same time, I will slowly begin to lose it if I don’t build in enough quiet, rest, and solitude for myself. For us, this looks like me accepting more social invitations than I might initially be inclined to, while Matthew has formed his own “man night” of late-night whiskey sipping on our porch with friends while I devour books in bed. We have learned to look out for each other and sacrifice for one another’s needs, and we are better for it.
Talk to each other: It’s not uncommon for a Saturday morning to start out with asking each other, “What do you need today? What do you desire for today?” If we don’t have any set plans, we each take a few moments to do a self-assessment and then tell one another what will feed out souls and give us life for the day. For me, that might be a few hour chunk at a coffeeshop to write, or some time with Netflix and a face mask and nail polish (don’t judge me!) For Matthew, this might mean time in the yard working up a sweat, or inviting friends over for dinner. We recognize the different needs that we have and do our best to accommodate each other so that we both end our day feeling refreshed and stable.
Give each other grace: Four months ago, we moved to Kigali, Rwanda to work as missionaries. I was 8 weeks pregnant and the transition for me was rough, to say the least. Matthew, on the other hand, has never felt more alive. In the past months, I have required a lot more intentional self-care time than he has- and that’s okay. Someday, our roles may shift, and I will need to sacrifice a lot more to keep him on track. We recognize the season and give one another grace and help each other thrive and move forward.
Fight for each other: It can be very easy to swing the pendulum and neglect your own self-care in favor of allowing your spouse to practice their own. Get in the habit of being in tune with where your spouse is and what they might need, even if they don’t actively communicate it. One of the greatest examples of this is my husband suggesting that we order delivery and watch a movie as a family at the end of a hard or emotional day. I might feel selfish or lazy to suggest it, but it’s what I need and it’s good for my soul- and he can recognize that when I might not be bold enough to ask. Give your spouse good gifts of self care!
Finally, just spend time with each other! Your relationship needs “self”care, too. We were recently talking with another couple about “relationship capital”- that is, time and attention that has been invested into your relationship that you can draw on in the future. While we teased them a bit for the transactional language, there’s a lot of truth to this. Another way to think about this might be a collective “reserve of resilience”- the energy your marriage has to help you withstand more difficult times. For me, I know that my marriage needs some weekly intentional time in order to feel stable and vibrant. Too long without a date night or breakfast together or even just an honest, vulnerable conversation, and bickering will be more frequent, sex will be less frequent, and our connection will just generally be poor. Good marriage self-care looks different for everyone- and your spouse may even feel they have different needs than you do. I think it’s important to err on the side of spending more time than you feel you need to being intentional with one another, rather than less. You will be stronger and more healthy for it- both as individuals and as one.
Karli Von Herbulis is an INFJ, enneagram type 2 living in Kigali, Rwanda where she aspires to work as a midwife to underprivileged women. She is a natural health enthusiast and mama to Hallelujah (2.5), Shepherd (due in November) and 3 angel babies. Karli blogs occasionally at feedmemama.net but more often Instagrams at @thedailyhallelujah.