We’ve all heard the saying, “you have to love yourself before you can love others”. I used to inwardly roll my eyes at this one and think, “what does that even mean anyways?”.
The meaning was lost to me because back then, I understood love as just a feeling. By that definition, I did love myself. I wanted good things for myself like health, friendships, growth, etc. I also loved my husband, there was no doubt about that. I thought about him all the time and I worked hard to make him comfortable and happy. I worked full time and still cooked, ironed all of his clothes, kept the house spotless, and was as helpful and useful as a wife could be.
The trouble is that love is not limited to just a feeling. To love well, we must understand it as a verb.
Loving well goes beyond a tidy home and organized socks (although those things are lovely too). Loving well means respecting the other person’s autonomy, ideas, and decisions. It means expressing our gratitude for the essence of who they are and their efforts.
Love (the verb) means we enjoy life alongside each other and support each other through difficult times.
In my experience, it was nearly impossible to do any of this when I was busy being the martyr at home that nobody asked me to be. I was stretched too thin and often felt depleted, unappreciated, and resentful. I had no respect for my husband’s autonomy or gratitude because all I could see was everything I was doing and everything that he wasn’t.
I also had a lot of fear. My fear fed my insecurities. I only see it now in retrospect, but I was deeply afraid that I was not lovable and felt that I had to make up for that fact by doing things like keeping a perfect home. The trouble was that everything I was doing depleted me so much that I then acted rather unlovable. I complained and criticized a lot back then.
I have learned that in order to love (the verb) my husband well, I DO have to love myself first. To accept that this isn’t selfish took me a long time. Understanding that ONLY when I love myself first am I CAPABLE of loving others well freed me from the guilt that had previously held me back.
These are 4 ways that you can practice loving yourself well so that you can also love others.
Getting In Touch with Your Needs
I am the mother of three very young children. As much as I LOVE it, there are times when the house is turned upside down and all three kids need me urgently at the same time and I feel overwhelmed. This can be a recipe for my best self leaving and being replaced with my ugly self. In these moments, I have a choice. I can let myself be driven by my emotions. Or I can be an empowered woman and ask myself the questions Laura Doyle teaches, “how do I feel and what do I want?”.
In those challenging mothering moments, sometimes I just want an hour of PEACE. With 3 kids under 4 years old, this might seem impossible. I’ll tell the 2 older ones to tidy for me while I put the baby down for a nap. Then I’ll give them a yummy snack and a movie while I nap for 15 minutes on the couch or have some coffee. I might’ve frowned on the idea of using treats and TV to bait my kids to clean for me in the past. Now, I see that sometimes, I HAVE to take care of myself so that I can then take good care of them and show up as my best self for my loved ones.
We all need different things at different times. Denying those needs does nobody any favors. So ask yourself, what do you need and what do you want?
Honor Your Limits
As I mentioned above, I used to aspire to be the perfect housewife, while working full time on top of that. I realized that I had no time to just rest and relax after work and something had to give. I made a list of everything I was doing and realized that ironing every single shirt and pair of pants took a very long time and was my least favorite chore. I also was harboring secret resentment that I never felt appreciated for all of that work. So I let that go. It was difficult to do because it felt like letting go of being the ideal woman that I had always imagined I would be. What I discovered was that the ideal woman that I prefer to be is happy , relaxed, and resentment free.
Today, I think twice before adding anything to my to do list. If I am capable of doing it with joy, then sure I’m happy to do it! I occasionally still iron all of my husband’s clothes while I play music and feel gratitude for him. However if it will cause me to feel depleted and resentful, I see that doing it will only hurt the respect and intimacy in my relationship (even if it's only in my thoughts) in the long run and is not worth it.
Once you have begun honoring your limits, you should find more freed up time, energy, and space in your life to season your life with more self care. Self care looks differently for everyone. It is whatever makes you smile and whatever makes you feel glad to be alive. It can be as big as a weekend away at a beach house to restore, or as simple as a quiet cup of coffee on the porch. Consistently and consciously sprinkling in special moments of joy will nurture your self love. You will be communicating to yourself that you are lovable, that you are worth the time it takes to do self care, and that you value your own joy.
This is the key to loving myself well, which in turn allows me to love my husband well. When I have treated myself as a valuable and precious human being, I am full enough to let my love pour out as grace, acceptance, and appreciation for him and others.
Gratitude for You
Alice had been trying to have a baby for ten years. When I met her she was understandably completely heartbroken. She blamed her body for “not working” and “not doing what it was supposed to”. She was asked to come up with 10 things about her body that she was grateful for. She started her list, “my body has run 3 marathons, my body is strong and healthy, my body donates blood regularly to help others, my body allows me to hug my loved ones…”. By the end of her list, her face and everybody’s that had witnessed this with her, was covered in tears.
Alice continued this exercise every single day, adding new things to her list as she discovered them. Little by little, she was able to stop blaming her body. As she turned her focus towards appreciation, she nurtured her love for it.
Many of us have very painful and negative stories we tell ourselves about who we are and what we are worth. Gratitude is a powerfully healing force. I invite you to give the same exercise a try. Write 10 things that you appreciate about you. Keep adding to your list as you uncover more beautiful things about yourself.
You are worthy of love. You are beautiful. You are lovable. Believe it. Know it. Live it and you will truly love well.
From my heart to yours,
You may also enjoy:
You’re invited to join the private Facebook group:From Lonely to Lovebirds for women only to get inspiration, tips, and encouragement as you become empowered in your marriage. I’d love to have you in the community!
Subscribe below for articles and updates.