A successful relationship has two very important components: learning to love yourself first, and then learning to love another person. Too many people ignore the first part, then wonder why it’s so hard to love another. It’s like expecting to water a plant with an empty water pitcher. Or trying to put on your child’s oxygen mask when the airplane cabin pressure drops, but passing out from lack of oxygen before you can get it on.
Self-love, self-care, nurturing your own soul, comes first. How do you do that? There are inner and outer ways of self-love. Both are important.
The Inner Way of Self-Love
The inner way includes meditation or prayer. Feeling gratitude is a powerful practice, not just for the “good” things, but also for the tests and challenges that can bring a deeper compassion. In Risk to Be Healed, we wrote about losing a baby before birth, and how the pain and grief eventually transformed into the profound gift of a new spirit guide, Anjel. Gratitude was the key. In Light in the Mirror, we wrote about the 1989 earthquake that destroyed our home, and also opened the door for us to buy the land on which we now live and work. Again, gratitude was instrumental.
The practice of quieting your mind, which is often not easy, is another way you love yourself. Joyce and I have meditated for over 40 years. You’d think our minds would now be sublimely peaceful. Not so. We have learned, though, that the result doesn’t matter. It’s the intention that means everything, and the kindness we show ourselves regardless of how still our minds become. This is practicing self-love.
Accepting our feelings, and not judging them, is another way we love ourselves. If we have experienced loss, and most of us have, we need to allow ourselves to grieve. If someone says something that hurts us, we love ourselves by not ignoring the hurt feelings. There are as many ways to love ourselves as there are individuals.
The Outer Way of Self-Love
Then there are outer ways to love yourself. I am writing this article in one of my favorite places, the Lost Coast in northern California, a 25-mile stretch of rugged beach wilderness. I have three nights to be here and let the wild beauty feed my soul.
Backpacking is for me an exercise in ultra-simplicity. Since I carry everything on my back, mile after mile, everything I bring has to pass two tests: is it light enough, and do I really need it. The small journal and pen are a luxury to be sure, but writing is another way I love myself. I have a need to get away from civilization, whether it’s a backpack or river trip. I do this as much as possible with Joyce, but at least once a year I do a solo trip with the intention of letting nature and solitude open the way to more self-love.
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Doing is just as important as being. Do what nurtures your soul, whether it’s a walk in nature, yoga stretches, dancing, jogging, writing, painting, juggling, origami, or a thousand other things you love to do. Whatever you do, don’t fall into the trap of feeling you are too busy, and therefore put off acts of self-care. If you think about how crucial these things are for your well-being, all kinds of time will miraculously open up for you.
Not Loving Yourself Enough
Most of the troubled relationships Joyce and I see involve two people who are not loving themselves enough. We do a number of couples retreats each year. It is interesting to hear couples speak about their “relationship problems,” as if there are the two of them, and then there is a separate third entity called the relationship, that somehow can be worked on.
Every one of our couples retreats focus on helping each person love and accept themselves more deeply. For when this happens, the relationship invariably improves. In other words, we don’t open people’s hearts to their partners. We open their hearts to themselves, and this secondarily opens their hearts to their partners. We invite you to attend one of our couple’s retreats and experience this process for yourself.
Of course, there’s a lot to be said about ways to love our partners more deeply. Our newest books, To Really Love a Man and To Really Love a Woman, are filled with what we consider the most important ways: unique appreciations, expressing your trust, how to become more vulnerable, authenticity in sharing feelings, taking complete responsibility for your own feelings, important keys for sexual wellness, how to resolve conflicts, identifying and loving the inner parent as well as the inner child, finding out what your partner really wants and needs, taking initiative in the relationship, and the importance in establishing a spiritual connection, to briefly name a few.
And still, loving yourself is the grand prerequisite for loving another person.
Joyce and I have a very important practice every morning without exception. First, we sit side by side while we meditate quietly. This is our time to love ourselves in whatever way we need in the moment. And second, we join hands, touch our heads together, and each of us takes turns speaking prayers out loud. This is our time to love each other, to give thanks to what is bigger than the two of us, and to ask for the help we need. Some mornings we feel more rushed, but still incorporate these two parts, just more briefly. Other mornings, especially Sundays, we luxuriate in the meditation and the prayers.
Just two parts: 1. loving ourselves before we can 2. love another.
Then watch as your life transforms and fills with blessings.
Book by this Author
To Really Love a Woman
by Barry and Joyce Vissell.
How does a woman really need to be loved? How can her partner help to bring out her deepest passion, her sensuality, her creativity, her dreams, her joy, and at the same time allow her to feel safe, accepted and appreciated? This book gives tools to the readers to more deeply honor their partners.
About the Author(s)
Joyce & Barry Vissell, a nurse/therapist and psychiatrist couple since 1964, are counselors near Santa Cruz, CA. They are widely regarded as among the world's top experts on conscious relationship and personal growth. They are the authors of The Shared Heart, Models of Love, Risk To Be Healed, The Heart’s Wisdom, Meant To Be, and A Mother’s Final Gift.
Here are a few opportunities to bring more love and growth into your life, at the following events led by Barry and Joyce Vissell: Feb 11-16, 2020 — The Couples Journey, Aptos (for couples); Jun 7-14, 2020 — Shared Heart Alaska Cruise, leaving from Seattle (for singles and couples); and Jul 19-24, 2020 — Shared Heart Summer Retreat at Breitenbush Hot Springs, OR (for singles, couples and families). For further information on counseling sessions by phone or in person, their books, recordings or their schedule of talks and workshops. Visit their web site at SharedHeart.org.
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