What is self care? A lot of people throw that term around these days. In my working definition, self-care is acting on your own behalf to maintain or restore your physical, mental, and emotional health. Self-care is treating yourself the way a nurturing parent or caring partner would. Looking out for your long term good.
Some examples might include getting exercise, spending time in nature, making time to do hobbies you enjoy (alone or with others), physical pampering (like a spa day, or a bubble bath), listening to music, enjoying a treat, trying something new, or getting the right amount of sleep every night. Everybody’s self-care is going to look different, and that’s just as it should be. You are your own best guide to what enhances and protects your health. (But don’t forget to brush your teeth!)
Sometimes when we’re already overwhelmed, and running more on impulse than planning, we might self-soothe with things that meet an immediate need, but are not the best long-term choice. I regard these things as coping mechanisms rather than self-care. I know one of my go-to coping strategies is emotional eating, especially of sweet treats and chocolate. I see echoes of that in ‘wine-mom culture’ as well. It’s important to recognize that these things can be essential for getting through a stressful moment intact, and practice self-compassion around turning to coping mechanisms. It’s equally important to recognize that if you’re caught in a pattern of routinely coping instead of engaging in self-care, it’s worth trying to problem solve around that. Being routinely overwhelmed and backed into making short term decisions that don’t reflect your long term well being is a problem.
The aim of self-care isn’t to be happy all the time, or to only cultivate positivity, though effectively managing one’s stress may result in easier access to positive emotions. Your personal best state of physical, mental, and emotional health might look more like calm, or contentment, relief, or relaxation. You might have a feeling of greater resilience in the face of life’s little upsets, or a sense of greater competence in managing the day-to-day demands of your situation when your self-care strategies are working well.
So how does self-care relate to polyamory?
Self-care supports your best function, and when you have multiple relationships to engage in, this becomes an important responsibility. How can you show up for others when you’re falling apart? Taking care of yourself is good for everyone in your web of relationships. They always say to secure your own oxygen mask first.
Taking personal responsibility is generally highly valued in our community—it doesn’t mean you have to go it alone, it just means that final responsibility for your welfare is yours. How you choose to take care of yourself can and probably should include asking for help from the people who care about you.
One thing this can look like is making time for yourself—reserving your spot on the group Google calendar. Making time in your schedule for the hobbies you care about, and the introvert (or extrovert!) time that makes you feel good. If you have trouble staying accountable for saving aside this time, maybe your partners can help encourage you! After all, when you’re feeling balanced and calm, everyone benefits.
I also want to acknowledge that self-care can be really hard.
It’s hard to make yourself a priority if you feel like you don’t deserve it. Like other people’s problems and other people’s pain is more urgent or important than yours. It’s hard to take care of yourself if you’re legitimately overwhelmed all the time; if your life is asking more of you than you have to give; if you’re short on resources. Sometimes getting the support of multiple partners can help.
People can help each other have time to do things like get to the gym by sharing childcare or making it a gym-buddy date. They can remind each other to take time for themselves. They can split the cost of things like a visit to the hot tubs. They can cook each other healthy meals! They can set each other a good example at taking care of themselves. Peer pressure is sometimes a good thing.
And finally, one of the most important aspects of self-care in relationships is the cultivation of healthy boundaries. Getting yourself out of a toxic situation; insisting on negotiating communication that feels good to you (whether in content or in frequency); making sure your voice is heard and your needs respected by your partners—these are all profound examples of self-care. You deserve to preserve your integrity. You deserve to be seen, and heard, and cared for both by yourself and by your partners.
You deserve your own time and space to be your own person, so that you can return to your interrelating refreshed and share love and care and vulnerability with your whole heart.