Taking Time for Yourself

“Where are we?”

We need to?”

“When should we?”

“What should we say?”

We, we we. Being married certainly is a “we” proposition. And when kids enter the picture, whatever sense of privacy or self you enjoyed goes down the drain faster than ever. But remaining happily married requires an “I” focus, too.

Is taking time for yourself a selfish preoccupation? It can be if you routinely neglect the needs of others. But one of the more selfish things you can do is to neglect yourself. Why? Because when you neglect yourself you become needy. You then require more help from others and resent it when help isn’t forthcoming. Selfishness can unravel a relationship. But so can an absence of selfishness.

Who were you before you became a “we”? Does any part of that person still exist? When you’re alone (do you have quiet time to be alone?) who is the “me” inside of you?

“My teenager was talking about his future dreams,” a middle-aged man told me one day. “He wants to become an actor. An actor, can you believe it? He explained to me-before I could warn him myself – that 95 percent of all actors are unemployed and he doesn’t care. He simply wants to act. You know what? I envy him. Not for his wish to be an actor. I envy him because he has a dream.”

People stop dreaming when they think it’s time to wake up. Home loan repayments, taxes, children, aches and pains, hair loss, a fondness for quieter music – are all reminders that you’re older now and that the real world must be faced, not an imaginary one. But if facing the real world means abandoning personal dreams or losing your sense of individuality, you may feel imprisoned by your commitments and smothered by your intimate relationships.

Happy couples not only balance time together with time apart, they use their individual time to replenish themselves.

Broadly there are two kinds of self-renewal. Taking time to do more of those things you really enjoy is one type. Vacations sometimes serve that purpose, though most people could use more than the allotted two weeks every summer. Learning to relax, to enjoy solitude, to gaze at a night sky and feel a stirring of wonder and peace – all help you to re-orient yourself to your neglected inner world.

A second level of self-renewal is more profound and longer lasting. It involves having a vision for your life, a mission or purpose. Too many people with worthwhile dreams talk themselves out of them. They convince themselves that they already have too many responsibilities. Besides, dreams are risky. But meaningful dreams, according to Frederic Hudson, are not items on a wish list but “a visceral yearning…a picture of what you most deeply want your life to count for…a haunting refrain…” Will your dream still be important a year, or five years, from now? When your life is nearing its end, will you regret your decision to forsake that dream? If you answered “Yes,” you have a dream worth pursuing.

Maybe. Maybe not. If your dream makes you apprehensive, join the club. Dreams challenge us to stretch our capacities, which increases the risk of failure or setbacks. If you abandon your dream, will you resent your spouse for “holding me back”? If so, you are not accepting full responsibility for your decision. Instead, you are holding your partner responsible.

Sometimes a person lets go of a dream in order to commit more strongly to the marriage dream (for example, by turning down a promotion that would have required spending too much time away from home). A sacrifice, to be sure, but done for a worthwhile reason – to allow the marriage to flourish. It’s not always easy to know which dream should be followed and which should fade. But happy couples keep dreams alive.

Have you given up a bit of yourself over the years? Do you often think in terms of “we” or “us” and rarely “I”? If so, you’re preventing your spouse from enjoying a major source of marital pleasure: a partner who likes himself, enjoys himself, and who has personal goals and ambitions.

Respond to this statement: If I had complete freedom (more opportunity, more money, support from my spouse, etc.) I’d probably devote more time to …. If you come up with an answer that you can’t shake off, you owe it to yourself to take the idea seriously.

Two years ago, my wife bought a ticket for me to go deep-sea fishing. It was on our wedding anniversary. That morning when I woke up, I had envisioned spending the day together with her … but she had other plans.

I couldn’t believe it! Why would carol want me to be away from her? BUT she simply kissed me, and said, this is your anniversary gift! She gave me the ticket to go on a boat for the entire day, fishing. I enjoyed the kiss but couldn’t understand the message behind the gift.

I love fishing although I have moved away from the sea. I can still hear the ocean calling me. And now and again, I just play with my fishing gear in my garage.

I caught some very good fish that day and I will never forget Caroline’s gift to me. Her gift was not a ticket to go fishing but in essence, it was a gift of time alone with myself. Wow! My wife really knows how to choose well, look at who she married! Ahahhaha!

I will never forget that gift. She understood that sometimes we need to spend time alone, apart from each other. The importance and need to spend time apart was highlighted by choosing to give me that TIME on a very special day when it was expected that we should spend time together.

Today, as I write this article, it has been 7 days since our twelfth anniversary, I am in the Johannesburg International airport, waiting for my flight to take me to the arms of the only woman of my dreams. I wasn’t at home for my anniversary because I had to be in Zimbabwe for a speaking engagement. So it is time to celebrate 12 years of happiness with my high-school sweetheart.

I have loved Carol every minute we were together, but today, I love her even more as I realize that in marrying her, she did not bury “me.”

Copyright by Paul Charles, Ph.D, August 2006, http://www.paulinperson.com/

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