While still single, Emily discovered something important about marriage. She had heard the part about two becoming one. The eye-opener for her was learning how to remain a vibrant individual while being a relationship partner.

When she wasn’t involved with a man, Emily spent her free time skiing, playing tennis, taking an art class, or relaxing at a beach. She joined women friends for dinner, a movie, or a play. She was happy.

Her joie de vivre would soon attract a new boyfriend. She expected each relationship to last forever. Once she felt they were a couple, she arranged her life to revolve around him. If he liked to run she shopped with him for a pair of running shoes for herself. She dropped her separate activities and picked up his.

Emily would become dull. The guy would lose interest in her. Bereft over the break-up for some time, she would finally start to refill the empty shell she had become with rejuvenating activities.

Again, she sparkled. Her aliveness would draw in her next boyfriend, and the process would then repeat itself; she would lose her vitality, and the relationship.

Emily finally recognized her self-defeating pattern. She understood she needed to balance “togetherness” with self-nurture.

Now married for over twenty years, both she and her husband Jeff invest themselves in both their individuality and in their relationship.
How Emily and Jeff Attain a Balance

Emily and Jeff enjoy their dates together at plays and movies, lectures, and restaurants. Emily usually goes skiing on her own or with a friend. Jeff typically goes to ball games alone or with a friend. About once a year, though, the two of them stay for a couple of days at Emily’s favorite ski resort, where he watches televised sports while she has a blast on the slopes. Once in a while, she goes to a baseball game with Jeff.

They are comfortable with each pursuing separate interests individually. Both their separate self-nurturing activities and their time together contribute to their fulfilling, long lasting marriage.
Making Dates with Your Spouse—and Yourself

You may have heard that a weekly date with your partner fosters a good relationship. Do you also make sure to enjoy self-nurturing activities individually? By overdoing togetherness, you can lose touch with your essential self, like Emily did long ago. When this happens, you might sense something amiss in your relationship, such as the absence of romance and fun. You might feel discouraged or blame your partner. Or you might resign yourself to a flat relationship as inevitable, since you’ve heard that marriage feels routine after a while.

But if you fail to try to correct the situation, you risk ending up with a serious case of soul neglect. This malady can appear in the form of depression, resentment, anxiety, anger, loss of interest in sex, thoughts of divorce; or as an addiction, such as alcoholism, substance abuse, or overeating.
More about Dates with Yourself

According to the Talmud (the oral Torah), "Every blade of grass has its Angel that bends over it and whispers, 'Grow, grow.'” How much more so must humans keep engaging in growth producing activities in order to lead fulfilling lives. Ongoing self-care promotes growth and vitality. When you sparkle with aliveness, you bring excitement into your relationships, especially your marital one.

Julia Cameron's book, The Artist's Way (Tarcher, 1992), encourages everyone, not just professional artists, to spend a block of about two hours a week of quality time alone in a self-nurturing activity. Doing so creates a climate for accepting one's true, uncensored thoughts and feelings, which emerge spontaneously in the right settings. In such places ideas emerge for creative ways to address challenges a person may be experiencing, in any aspect of life, including in marriage.

Many mothers feel guilty about taking time out for themselves. It’s helpful to remember that no one likes being around a martyr. And especially to know, "When Mom's happy, everyone's happy!" A friend, who is the mother of nine children, conquers the guilt challenge by asking herself, “Would I rather feel guilty or resentful?” If she can do it, you can too. So at least sometimes, feel the guilt and do it anyway!

If you are already balancing self-care with together-time well, congratulations! But if you’re not there yet, think about restorative activities to do alone. Then start doing at least one a week. If applicable, encourage your partner to do the same.

When you take charge of your own well-being, you recharge your battery. You also allow enough time to want to re-connect with your mate again. By creating enough “me time,” you will look forward to the “we time.” And you will be forming a more vibrant, fulfilling relationship.

Author's Bio: 

Marcia Naomi Berger, MSW, LCSW, author of Marriage Meetings for Lasting Love: 30 Minutes a Week to the Relationship You’ve Always Wanted (New World Library, 2014), has a private psychotherapy practice in San Rafael, California, offers workshops for couples and singles, and continuing education classes for therapists. She has taught also at the UCSF School of Medicine, UC Berkeley Extension, and Alliant International University.

A former executive director of a family service agency, she has held senior level positions in child welfare, alcoholism treatment, and psychiatry. Marcia Naomi Berger lives in San Rafael, California with her husband of 27 years, David Berger.