How to Be Self-Partnered, Regardless of Relationship Status
5 strategies to better your relationship with yourself—and those around you
Posted December 19, 2019 | Reviewed by Hara Estroff Marano
In my last post, I talked about the benefits of self-partnership for those who are single, in relationships, or anywhere in between. I defined self-partnership as a commitment to honoring one’s needs, healing one’s wounds, and working towards self-growth and self-actualization.
In this post, I’d like to offer more specific strategies on how to self-partner. Below, I’m including five strategies to better your relationship with yourself, which will also improve your connections with those around you.
1. De-condition societal expectations.
Our society has a lot of expectations for us—ones that are often impossible to meet. Whether these are role-based, body-based, or relationship-based, many people feel a pervasive sense of failure and shame around them (see Brené Brown for more on this topic). Those who don’t follow traditional expectations or story lines are often maligned. Research documents discrimination against single people, as I mentioned last week.
To be self-partnered, you first need to question and then define your own expectations, values, and goals. Where did you learn what your life should be like? Who taught you? How do those expectations make you feel now? What needs to be updated? Take time to sit with these questions and begin to build your own answers. Noticing the constrictions of our society can help empower you to make choices about what you want your life to be like, regardless of other people's opinions.
2. Take care of yourself.
This is the most basic strategy, and yet sometimes the hardest to do. Do you get enough sleep? Do you move your body regularly? Do you eat food that makes you feel good? Do you slow down or rest when you need to? Many people think it’s selfish to consider one's needs. But doing so will benefit not only you but the others in your life. It's difficult to care for and connect with others when we're in a constant state of stress and exhaustion.
3. Seek and experience pleasure.
Many people find it difficult to tap into their bodies, living much of their lives in their heads. It’s not surprising, given that our society often favors the cerebral over the visceral and emotional. Additionally, we often try to numb or distract ourselves from feeling sadness, anxiety, or other uncomfortable body-based emotions. But then we also cut off other feelings, like joy, excitement, and pleasure. Sexuality is a specific area in which many can have difficulties feeling pleasure, for a variety of reasons (a topic I will explore in greater depth in future posts).
There are many ways to begin to slow down and feel body-based pleasure and joy, from movement (dance, yoga, boxing) to meditation/mindfulness to bodily self-exploration, which can be but doesn’t have to be erotic in nature. If you don’t or rarely experience pleasure, ask yourself: What is keeping me from pleasure? What are activities that brought me pleasure in the past? How can I have a more conscious goal of moving towards activities and people that bring me pleasure?
4. Cultivate a community.
It's common for people to turn to their partners or (if single) their ideas of partners for a reprieve from loneliness, sadness, or loss. This is unsurprising, given that this story is sold to us from a young age. However, this view can lead to dependence and disappointment for those in relationships. Those who are single and want partners can feel frustration or ambiguous loss.
One way to counteract this narrative is to foster a community of support, so that you can lean on various people in order to meet your needs. If you don’t have a community of family, friends, mentors, and/or mentees, this could be the perfect time to foster and cultivate it in your life. Ask yourself: Who supports me? Where do I feel like I’m lacking support? How and where can I find people to fill different roles of support, acceptance, and/or intimacy in my life?
5. Face your fears.
I mentioned some difficult emotions—loneliness, sadness, and loss—in #4 above. Other uncomfortable feelings can include shame and anger. While these are all common human emotions that we all feel from time to time, they can become problematic when they overwhelm us or scare us so much that we repress them with addictions or distractions.
Emotions are actually powerful messengers. They can point us toward inner wounds that need our attention. This can be done on your own, but it’s usually most helpful to find a professional to help facilitate this process. While this isn’t a one-time task, learning skills to let in what we usually keep out can be empowering and even life-changing. Ask yourself: What am I most afraid of? Why? How can I consider this a messenger instead of a curse? Who can support me in this journey of acknowledgment, processing, and self-compassion?
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