For a Strong Relationship, First Take Care of Yourself
There's a lot to be said in a marriage, or in a committed relationship, for taking care of each other. But more often than not, relationships that run into stormy weather do so because the people in it aren't taking care of themselves. This seems fairly straightforward, that living your life in total emotional disarray will inevitably drag down your partner, and yet it's surprising how often couples forget it. Let yourself go, and the odds are pretty good your relationship is going to go too.
I think what it ultimately comes down to is self-awareness, which sounds simple, but in reality is one of the hardest things to come by. Here in New York, where I live, we're especially prone to climbing inside our heads and barreling through life without paying much attention to what we're actually doing. As long as we hit the right road markers—career, good apartment, knowing the right restaurants—we figure we'll be okay. But then years go by and suddenly we wake up wondering who we are and what has become of our lives.
Which is all well and good when you're single. As a single man I was quite adept at wondering what had become of my life, without ever actually doing anything about it. Momentum is a wonderful thing when you're the only person involved. But then suddenly you find yourself in a relationship with a person who has their own hopes, fears, ambitions, and quirks and, before you realize it, you've caught them up in your own negative momentum too.
Which is why it is so important in a relationship to be self-aware. And not just passively self-aware, but actively so: as in actively trying to better yourself. And the key to that is to not be self-absorbed, which means listening to the people and the world around you, empathizing with how it is they see things, and then processing that in a way that is always pointed towards self-improvement. It's become such a clichéd and awful sounding phrase, self-improvement, and yet, if you aren't striving for it, then you aren't truly moving forward in life. And if you aren't moving forward, well, I have news for you, you're keeping your partner from moving forward too. And that, more than anything else, will stamp an expiration date on your relationship.
Ultimately, taking care of yourself means choosing a life that, as New York Times columnist David Brooks says it, is about eulogy virtues rather than resume virtues, as in, things about you that will be mentioned in your eulogy. Trying to be a better person, making that the goal of life rather than what's on your resume, or in your bank account, will mean that you are an engaged and healthy component of the relationship you are in. Because the best way to take care of your partner is always going to be to take care of yourself first.