*My latest on Your Tango, kittens!

The sustainable path considers self-love as integral to the ‘whole’ of the relationship.

“Don’t do everything for him, you’ll regret it later.”

This was the sage marriage advice I received from my mother-in-law quite a few years ago. I shoved those words aside at the time, too new to relationships to know that they were golden crumbs on a path to healthy love and on how to be a good wife.

Not surprisingly, I dove headlong into repeating the same pattern later on in relationship number two. It hasn’t been pretty.

In getting the love you want, couples need nurturing from each other – not mothering. Yet, most people end up doing the latter, believing them to be the same thing. But, they’re not.

Why do some of us — of any gender — mother our partners?

I’ve been exploring this conundrum for a good while, most of it was born out of introspection into my own strong instinct to mother. I’ve surmised that I have a double dose of it, due to a severe lack of positive parenting I received as a child.

Don’t receive enough — mother everything in sight. At least, that was how I externalized my inner-child wounds. A long line of adopted cats, dogs, goats, and chickens after my own fledglings flew the coop can attest to that!

There’s nothing wrong with a little generosity of the heart of course, as long as we understand the impulses that take us into overdrive.

My lesson in love was that I greatly confused nurturing with mothering when it came to my significant other.

Nurturing is empowering and there are 3 reasons why it’s the most important marriage advice.

1. We see where our partner needs support but do not override their autonomy

For example, you offer to make your partner tea when they are tired or simply to do something nice for them. Another time, they offer to make you tea, you accept and don’t resist their offer by saying that you’ll do it (because you feel you can do it better/quicker perhaps or simply out of that mothering habit).

In a good marriage, there is space for kindnesses and space for support. Learning to step back from our desire to ‘do it all’ is a step toward healthy self-esteem.

2. Nurturing gives rise to sovereignty for either partner

I don’t think we speak enough about sovereignty in healthy relationships. Too much societal, sugar-coated love indoctrination can make us feel that we should become one.

A more balanced viewpoint is, as the Buddhists say, two flames sharing a path, with room for each to actualize their individuality.

3. We create feelings of empowerment

As partners in a marriage, we share responsibilities while offering ourselves in a sustainable manner.

Sustainability in love stems from truly knowing our boundaries and our abilities to give ongoingly without burn-out.

Meanwhile, there are 3 reasons why mothering your husband or wife invalidates them.

  • It sends the signal that we are willing to sacrifice ourselves and our needs for their benefit. It not only invalidates their abilities to take care of themselves but screams about our own lack of self-worth.
  • It creates further expectations of continuing the same behavior, setting up a pattern difficult to reverse. Whether we mother out of some kind of guilt or from our own unhealed wounds and shadows, the result is the same — habits which lead to exhaustion, resentment, and anger.
  • Mothering our partner can lead to loss of respect. Once resentment sets in, we begin to blame the other party for our own habit which in effect trained them to expect what we now no longer wish to do. I’m not sure which comes first, the loss of respect for ourselves or our partner, but either way, it makes for relationship hell.

What is a more sustainable path? It’s one which considers self-love as integral to the ‘whole’ of the relationship.

No one person should sacrifice themselves for another nor should they ignore the needs of the other, without being taken advantage of. To be taken advantage of is to allow it, and the responsibility of whether we are participating in mothering versus nurturing rests with us.

“They took advantage of my good will” is a dis-empowering statement often cited by serial motherer’s which shifts the own lack of boundaries to our partner. It’s difficult it is to break such patterns as it takes some honest self-talk to dig deep into that and come up with something that helps us move through it.

Having a conversation with our partner about what’s not working may seem daunting, even impossible. Begin with an act self-love. Take a bath, a walk, make a nourishing meal for yourself. That is always a centering, grounding way to enter any conversation.

Be empowered and glass-filled, open to the possibility that there is a way forward. You may be surprised by the response you receive when you approach your beloved. But it all begins with opening up to what you need, what brings peace to your own heart.

Author Kim McMillen stated, “When I loved myself enough, I began leaving whatever wasn’t healthy. This meant people, jobs, my own beliefs, and habits — anything that kept me small.  My judgment called it disloyal. Now I see it as self-loving.”

I encountered many of my own excuses along the way to truly knowing what co-dependence comes from mothering a lover. And so often, co-dependence, dressed as love, unpacks all those cozy, healthy, fun, romantic ways we used to enjoy before we created a monster of self-sacrifice.

The good news is, stepping back to see ourselves in a clear light, allowing for self-love, gathering our courage and opening an honest conversation can bring a much-needed liberation. It can bring balance and equanimity to any relationship.

It all boils down to what kind of expectations we have placed on ourselves and listening to the honest feedback we receive from our body and emotions when something doesn’t feel right anymore. What’s left is acting upon that feedback.

*** See it on Your Tango!