011. Six Questions for Relational Self-Care
Self-care is as much about us as individuals as it is about the relationships we center our lives around. The two most important needs we have as humans are to know that we belong and that we matter. So often we skip over these two incredibly important needs with our most important people (think spouse, partner, best friend, small group, etc.) because we think we should just know that we belong and matter. When we doubt these truths, oftentimes we make up that it says something bad about us that we need reminding.
Can I let you in on a secret? None of us outgrow the need to know that we are loved and liked. Sure, the need to constantly be reassured that we are loved can come from a place of insecurity and shame. I’d like to shed light on the truth that naming and owning we do need encouragement, affirmation, accountability, etc is a huge sign of health. It's an easy way to practice self-care with yourself and your loved ones too.
A friend of mine first turned me on to these six, magical little questions several years ago. The space these questions unlocked always left us feeling more connected and more aware of one another. We were better able to care for each other and found that when conflicts did arise, we could move through them with much more ease. Asking these six questions became a regular practice in our friendship. Since then, I’ve implemented dialogue around these questions with my husband. They are a great reset button if either of us is in a funk or if we feel we haven’t connected emotionally in some time.
The beauty of these questions is they are really clear ways to open the doors to having hard conversations, accepting responsibility, and practicing vulnerability. I consider these questions to be a lovely form of self-care. Self-care is not just bubble baths and face masks. Self-care is a practice of holistic, integrated living with ourselves, others, and the world around us. I want to do everything in my power to care for all facets of my life well.
These six questions are a practical way to do relational self-care.
These six questions are adapted from literature found in Sexaholics Anonymous. I was unaware of this incredible resource until I started working more in the realm of sexual abuse and trauma. It’s a common theme for folks to reenact their childhood trauma over and over again. With people who have a history of childhood sexual abuse, it’s not an unusual pattern for people to find themselves in a pornography addiction or engaging in sexual activities quickly and often with emotionally unavailable people or completely shut down sexually. (If you’re interested and in need of some great, healing resources around these topics, let me know! I’d gladly pass some along to you or you can check out the counseling resources page I have under BB Reads.)
A huge part of healing with any type of sexual abuse or addiction is building and experiencing emotional intimacy. That’s where we go back to the importance of those needs to belong and to matter. In essence, we first need to know we are going to be loved for exactly who we are and then it’s safe to begin building on sexual intimacy. More often than not, the sexual part happens before the emotional part.
*More to come on the topic of sex, sexuality, and intimacy later!*
Regardless of where you are, these six questions offer a doorway into creating a “home” between the two of you that is safe, secure, inviting, and intimate.
One way to look at it is, the “cozier” the home you two build, the “cozier” the intimacy. Doing relational self-care as a regular practice creates a strong foundation. It builds supported and secured walls that section off different rooms of our “stories.” When we get to understand relational preferences, we get to decorate and furnish the home in a way that is pleasing to both of us!
Let’s put some emotional guard rails up and then we can get down to it!
I will offer a few suggestions that may help you create intentional time to care for you and your relationships well. Something you may want to consider is that there is no right way or wrong way to do this. There’s the way that works best for you and your person. And there’s likely a whole lot of ways that don’t work best. Be flexible, be willing to let it be awkward, and understand that relationships don’t change overnight.
First: Put it on the calendar before it happens.
There is nothing that drives my husband crazier than when I casually unload a very intense question, topic, or thought on him the moment he walks in the door. The second worst time I can do this is in the middle of the workday via text. This thrills him to no end. (Insert sarcasm font here.) I’ve definitely had to work on my timing in our marriage and for the sake of our marriage. It’s never been a strong suit of mine. That need not be an excuse because there’s no time like the present to start being mindful of this. It’s never too late to learn the art of tactfulness.
I’d kindly offer up the suggestion that most people do best when they aren’t caught off guard. Crazy, I know. So if this connection and intimacy stuff tickles your fancy, might I propose you text your person and invite them to be a part of this too?
A good rule of thumb is that anytime we are entering into another person’s story, we always take our shoes off.
Metaphorically speaking, inviting someone to engage in heart work is very much sacred ground and you want to be intentional, honoring, and respectful from the get-go.
Second. Put a time limit on it.
Maybe this isn’t your first rodeo into the wild, wild heartlands. However, this may be your partners or small groups first time to do it together. Vulnerability comes fairly naturally to me. I thrive off intense conversations. I didn’t always consider that some people might not find the same joy as I do out of emotional scuba diving. In fact, it can wear some of them out.
Therapeutically speaking, I often tell my clients there is a reason counseling is only once a week for fifty minutes. Emotional intensity can be a lot to handle and that doesn’t need to be anything you apologize for! You just are where you are at the moment. Like most things, you can work up a tolerance for more, but you’ve got to start somewhere.
Talk with your person and ask yourselves what seems like a reasonable amount of time to give to this activity. For some, thirty minutes is all you need. For the verbal processors of the world, you may need a little longer. I’d recommend giving yourself less time to start out with. This may be a new endeavor and honoring slow beginnings is a glorious place to be.
Set a timer and agree to stop whenever the timer starts to ding. If you made it through one question, great! If you got through half, fantastic! Building connection and intimacy is the goal, not completion. Going too slow can be a good thing in circumstances like this.
Lastly. Say out loud to each other that whatever y’all talk about won’t be leaving this space.
Did you know that entire professions exists around the framework of confidentiality? And aren’t we all grateful? The framework of my career rests on this pretense of confidentiality, which is why I take it so seriously. Safe places are hard to come by. When we find them, we want to be locked vaults for our people and their stories that we’ve been honored to receive.
Naming out loud that this conversation will go nowhere but the treasure chest of your hearts is a declarative and holy act of safety. Our words have power and hold us accountable. So please don’t skip this step! Intimacy can’t happen apart from safety.
Alrighty, ready for these six questions?! I think yes! Let’s go!
F What are you feeling?
A Who can you affirm?
(This may be yourself for doing something kick-ass, a friend, a co-worker, or a stranger at the grocery store. Share about what you noticed and what made it so important.)
N What do you need?
(This may be a hug, someone to pay for your dinner, or alone time. Nothing is too small and nothing is too big. I’d suggest being as specific as possible with this question.)
G How are you doing with your relationship with God?
(God is the word that I use, but it may not be the word you use. Brene Brown says one of the key factors to creating a resilient spirit is a connection to spirituality. Share about how it’s going, feelings and doubts that come up, and the questions you may be asking God.)
O What do you need to take ownership for?
(Did you tell a half-truth, eat a box of candy and then hide it under the couch so no one saw it? Do you need to confront someone for hurting your feelings? Here’s where you confess and take action.)
S How are you doing in your sobriety?
(You may read this and think, “I don’t have an addiction!” I would argue that we all have addictions, it may or may not look like alcohol abuse or substance abuse. It could be people pleasing and codependency, self-harm, disordered eating, withholding the truth and shutting down, being defensive, being controlling. See? There is a long list of addictions and I don’t think you’re excluded. )
If you notice, the acronym for these lovely six questions is FANGOS. Definitely not too hard to remember!
Feeling known is just as much about confessing the struggles as it is celebrating the wins.
These six questions to build relational self-care are a way to do that.
One of the many reasons I love these questions is that it makes taking responsibility, confessing struggles, and celebrating wins a common practice in your relationships. The more you spend time in the land of vulnerability, the more comfortable you get there. That means it’s a little easier to go there in the future when things will come up.
The beauty of vulnerability is that on the other side of it, is freedom and safety. And if there are two things I want for you and your relationships, it would be those two.
Cheers to the hard work of relational self-care and the holy reckoning of building intimate, connecting, and strong relationships!
I’d encourage you to take action right now!
Text your partner, your person, your best friend and set up a relational self-care date!
Screenshot or save the image above with all six of the relational self-care questions on one screen so you can have them handy.
Show up, tell the truth, and trust that in simply telling the truth you are changing your relational dynamics to be more vulnerable, honest, and free!
You go, girl!