Not that long ago I was a complete hot mess in love. I also attracted hot messes of men.
My relationships were the perfect storm of drama and co-dependence. I was full of a toxic blend of anxiety and perfectionism. I was inauthentic and afraid of my own truth. I pretended a lot. I did not have solid boundaries, I was a “yes” woman, with no idea how to say “no.”Parallel to these unhealthy and tumultuous loves, I was also training to become a mental health therapist. I wanted to be a healer, and I was called to be a more authentic version of myself. In my graduate school courses, my defenses were stripped down. All of a sudden there wasn’t any room to be an unhealthy lover if I wanted to be a catalyst for someone else’s growth.
Soon after graduate school was finished, amidst a heartbreaking end to a deep relationship, I realized I could no longer live a duel life of being a healthy healer and live in unhealthy relationships. I discovered that I was over my own inauthenticity. I realized that taking care of myself was the best way to create boundaries and maintain my authenticity. During my relationships, I was actually a master at taking care of myself externally. I always looked fabulous and put together. But my internal situation was a whole other story. Because I slept poorly, I was often sick. I did not eat well for my body, and I was usually feeling internal turmoil. My level of anxiety was through the roof, and I had no idea how to bring it down.
After the big breakup, I spent months healing. I read books, I caught up on sleep, I ate healthy foods, and I did all the nurturing things I could do to transition into the healthy woman I wanted to be. I realized to be in a fulfilling and healthy relationship that I had to figure out my boundaries, my truth and my own self nurturing. When I was ready for my next lover (who ended up becoming my husband), I knew the most essential ingredients for how to be an authentic, healthy partner. We were both in the same frame of mind, we established some clear boundaries to start. I expressed to him that one of my goals was to be “authentically Katherine” all of the time.
He thought that was funny and didn’t know what I meant. “Aren’t you always authentic?” He asked. I had to explain that it took me a long time to feel confident and to let go of codependent, perfectionist behaviors. As we were falling in love, we both agreed that our personal self-care was incredibly important to show up for each other well. That was eleven years ago, and since then we’ve had obstacles to overcome. We became parents of twin boys, and our self-care went right out the window. We’ve managed highly demanding jobs that had little room for extra time for us. We’ve ebbed and flowed until we’ve gotten to this place of understanding that what makes our relationship operate well is our own practices of self-care.
I truly believe that self-care is one of the primary reasons why my current relationships operate well. When it falls away, I find that both of us are disconnected and have a low vibe. When we are both in our zone, we are more present and able to connect more deeply.
Here are a few things that we do together and separately to maintain our self-care:
1. We encourage each other with healthy activities like exercising. We have an unspoken rule that we will make sure to support each other and be available to manage the twins so that the other one can exercise.
2. We have made a commitment to eat healthy foods. We’ve infused this into our entire family.
3. We have a regular sleep schedule. Rarely do either of us stay up way past the other one. We focus on making sleep a priority.
4. We make time for dates. With children and busy schedules, years can sometimes go by the wayside. But, we’ve consistently made sure that we schedule and enjoy our alone time together.
5. We talk about it when our self-care has not been a priority. Not in an accusing way, but in a way that expresses love and compassion.
6. We laugh at drama. Both of us have had our dramatic moments. They usually are pretty funny. We have a sense of humor when we melt down.
7. We establish and respect boundaries. I know what limitations are essential to my husband and he knows mine. We talk about them we need to.
8. We work on communicating often. We have weekly conversations about finances, parenting, work and our own wellbeing.
And, here are some things I do personally to maintain my authenticity and self-care:
1. I strive to be conscious of when I am feeling inauthentic. I notice what triggers inauthenticity inside of me. I do things to bring me back to my center and my authenticity.
2. I listen to my body. If I am full of anxious feelings, am tired or worn out, I do what I need to do to get back to center. That might mean taking a nap or a hot bath or creating time for meditation.
3. I have a solid journaling practice where I tap into my gratitude and my higher self.
4. I allow myself to ebb and flow. I used to think I had to maintain perfectionism all the time. And to be happy all of the time. Now, I allow myself to experience the good and bad days fully.
Healthy relationships are so much more fulfilling than the unhealthy ones. It wasn’t until I yearned for something more than what I had been attracting, that I realized I could have something different. By establishing a foundation for love, it became much more comfortable to call it healthy love.