What Does It Mean to Practice Self-Care in a Relationship?

Photo: Chelsea Victoria

It took years for Nadia Narain and Katia Narain Philips, co-authors of the new book Self-Care for the Real World, to figure out that self-care was critical rather than optional... at least, for themselves. Though the sisters grew up in Asia, where practices such as acupuncture and massage were viewed as a part of regular health maintenance rather than as an indulgence, careers (see also: relationships and kids) that required them to take care of others often caused them to put their own oxygen masks on second, if at all.

How to practice self-care in relationships
Photo: Courtsey of Hutchinson

Both women work in the service industry, so to speak. Nadia has been a yoga teacher and holistic therapist since 1996, and her impressive list of clients includes high-wattage celebs such as Kate Moss. Katia, meanwhile, is a health food devotee who runs a cafe in London called Nectar. For years, they've swapped wellness intel; and now, with the book, they've taken everything they've learned about self-care from their work, each other, and the trials and tribulations of life and distilled it into actionable items meant to help women reframe the concept and then weave its practice into the existing fabric of their lives. (No spa trip required.)

When I call them to talk about Self-Care for the Real World, the first thing I ask them to weigh in on is the wide-spread perception of self-care as something decadent, inaccessible, and maybe even selfish. "It’s kind of a corny hashtag that’s become an Instagram thing—it’s about people having massages and expensive smoothies," Nadia says. "But self-care is more important than treating yourself to something expensive. It's a mindset: looking after yourself the way you would look after someone you love." Once you begin to do this, she says, you'll start to rely on others to take care of you less... which is not so selfish, after all.

"Self-care is a mindset: looking after yourself the way you would look after someone you love."

Another misconception around self-care the duo hopes to debunk is that it must be time-consuming (and costly). Katia insists that some of the best forms of the practice are super simple. "One of my sons has a really hard time in the mornings, so now every morning we jump out of bed and dance to 'Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go' by Wham!," she says, noting that it's pretty easy to weave a tradition such as this into your daily life. "You'll feel good when you do it, and the more you feel good, the more you're going to want to continue the practice," Nadia adds. Eventually, a habit is born.

Nadia and Katia explain that these regular practices—big or small—build up what they refer to as savings in your self-care bank account. You can then call on this reserve in tough times. The same concept is at the heart of their relationship advice, too. For them, "self-care in a relationship" means investing in it regularly so that it doesn't unravel over time as well as banking good will with your partner consistently so that there are always stores of it to rely upon.

"It's not always going to be easy, but once you start making it a practice, it becomes so natural."

One of my favorite pieces of advice from this section—which you can read in its entirety below—is that you should try to greet your partner when they arrive home each day as your pet dog would greet you: with joy. When I tell them it sounds so hard to do, because, moods, they advise doing something to clean the mental slate before your partner returns home—a quick walk, a snack, maybe even a Wham! dance party. Once you've reset, you can then take this practice even further. "Whoever gets home first can prepare dinner or a bath for the other," Katia adds. "It's not always going to be easy, but once you start making it a practice, it becomes so natural."

Keep reading for more of Katia and Nadia's tips for nurturing your relationship in much the same way you *should* be taking care of yourself.

Read the exclusive excerpt from Self-Care for the Real World below to learn what it means to practice self-care in relationships.

Practice self-care in relationships
Photo: Stocksy/Guille Faingold

Self-Care in Relationships

"The world is full of nice people. If you can't find one, be one." — Rumi

The less you feel good about yourself, and the less joy you feel inside, the more likely you are to seek relationships with the wrong people. Instead of looking for a person who brings out the best in us, when we're feeling low we often seem to gravitate towards someone who mirrors how we feel inside.

When you tap into the feeling of joy that is always in you, you are more likely to attract someone who matches that vibration. Cultivating your own sense of joy allows you to be the best version of yourself in any relationship.

Cultivating your own sense of joy allows you to be the best version of yourself in any relationship.

What does a good relationship mean to you? Is it being with someone who always has your back and you always have theirs? Someone who makes you laugh? We think the best relationships are those where your partner can tell you when you are not being the best version of yourself... and who can love you even then.

We're not here to give you our top tips for finding your dream man or woman. That's up to you. We're more concerned that you're looking after yourself, whether you're in a relationship or not.

Look After Your Relationship

A relationship is like a living thing; it needs attention and nourishment, and it needs them regularly, not just once in a while when you remember about date night. Remember that resentment and measuring yourselves against each other will destroy a relationship—eventually, if not immediately. This applies to all relationships, not just romantic ones, although in this section we're mostly talking about a relationship with a partner.

It's easy to get complacent in a romantic relationship over time. And sometimes, it can feel as if romance has left the building entirely. Try some of these ideas to nurture your relationship (you may be doing them already).

  • Make sure you have proper time together, when neither of you is on your phone or watching TV. Try establishing a regular date night in the diary.
  • You know how excited the dog gets when you come home? Its a great feeling to be welcomed like that, right? Can you be that happy when someone you love comes home? Show them how glad you are that they're back.
  • Be respectful and kind to each other, even if you're angry (especially when you're angry).
  • Give each other space to be your own person and to do the things that give you joy, whether it's hobbies or time with friends. You need time apart from each other and especially, if you have them, time apart from the kids.
  • Do thoughtful things for each other. Think about what your partner needs or what makes them happy. It doesn't have to be an expensive gift; for some people it's as small as tea in bed in the morning. On days your partner is busy or getting home late, take over the cleaning and cooking. Don't just wait for special occasions to make loving gestures, whether big or small.
  • If you've been together for a long time, you may assume you know how your partner is feeling. You could be wrong—ask them.
  • It works the other way, too—don't assume they know what you want. People aren't telepathic. If something is bothering you, say so.
  • Sex can become a source of tension in a long-term relationship. You have to figure out a way to make sure both of you are having your needs met.
  • Speak to each other the way you'd like to be spoken to.

Nadia: "In my pregnancy yoga class I do a breathing exercise where people get into pairs. One puts their hands on the other's back, to help them feel whether they're breathing deeply, right into their back ribs. When it's two women who don't know each other, they speak so sweetly to one another, and practically smack each other in the place they want them to  breathe more! Even if you're stressed or angry, try to speak nicely to your partner, and hopefully they will do the same for you. It's a good habit."

Katia: "My husband Casey knows mornings are not my thing, so he goes down with the kids every morning and makes them breakfast and brings me a cup of tea in bed. It's a little thing but it reminds me all over again what a good husband I have. He knows: Happy Wife, Happy Life."

Self-Care for the Real World by Nadia Narain and Katia Narain Phillips is published by Hutchinson, priced $22.25.

Whether they call it "self-care" for their relationship or not, Kristen Bell and Dax Shepherd have an unexpected trick for keeping their marriage on track. Plus, the most common source of stress in relationships isn't money... find out what's actually straining the situation with your #1 boo

Our editors independently select these products. Making a purchase through our links may earn Well+Good a commission.

Loading More Posts...