Imagine you have a cup with you at all times. It's part of you. And you fill that cup each time you make yourself smile inside or out. These actions that you do have nothing to do with taking from anyone, they are things that you do that simply make your heart feel good or make you feel giddy with joy almost like a little kid. They are taking care of your needs. When you were a kid you did them all the time, without thinking about it. As a kid it might have been running around the yard, playing a game, singing, riding a bike. As you got older, the list got larger, with things like taking a nice candlelit bath, watching sports, hanging out with friends, volunteering, sitting next to your dog, playing with a child or children, reading a book, going to the library... you get the idea. Each time you do one of the million things that make you smile (inside or out), you fill that cup up. When your cup is full, you feel like a zillion bucks - on top of the world, or maybe just really content and happy. Now imagine that everyone has their own cup just like you do, and everything they do that makes themselves smile inside or out fills up their cup. Each and every person has their very own cup and it may be full or not so full. Let's call this the "me cup".
When two people enter into a relationship - regardless of the type of relationship - a new empty cup appears magically between them. I'll call this the "relationship cup". Now this cup gets full by one of two ways:
- Either or both of the partners in the relationship deposit into it by doing things that fulfill both . These things might be a different for each type of relationship, as well as the people in the relationship... some ideas might be spending quality time together like going out together for a walk, a long conversation, sharing a laugh; telling each other how much they appreciate each other or offer affirmations to each other; holding hands, cuddling or making love; giving gifts to each other, doing something out for the other like getting the dry cleaning or the dishes... you can go on from here with your own ideas.
- The overflow from either person's "me cup".
When one partner's "me cup" is not full and they are not continuing to do things to fill it up, many times they look to their partner to do things for them to fill it up for them. How their partner does that is by giving to the other person and taking away from themselves. Many people do this without realizing it. I can recall an instance in my own life where I did this; I was bending over backwards trying to cheer up my partner, doing things that will please them and ignoring my own needs until I depleted my own cup and then in turn looked to my partner to help me out and fill my "me cup", but because they weren't filling their own up they were looking to me to fill theirs up. It became a downward spiral really quickly and neither one of us had a clue why it was happening or how to fix it. Each side felt like the other didn't care enough and there were hurt feelings and distance put between us.
Once I learned about this idea, I decided that from then on, I was going to take responsibility for my own "me cup", ensuring it was filled up as often as possible, and when I was having trouble filling it up (we all have those days), I looked for motivation from all kinds of places to jump start myself into doing it again rather than looking to someone else to do it for me. It empowered me to take charge of my own needs and reminded me that only I am responsible for taking care of me. That doesn't mean that other people can't do things to take care of me or be nurturing towards me, it just means that I don't expect them to give me everything I need because I take responsibility for my basic needs first, and when they give and nurture - it's received even more warmly by me because I'm not starving or terribly thirsty for it.
When each side takes responsibility for filling their "me cup" and putting into the "relationship cup", the result can be very fulfilling and happy relationship for all sides. When one side relies on the other to fill their "me cup", the "relationship cup" isn't getting filled up; and if left empty too long distance or break ups often follow.
As with most things, this comes easier with each and every time it's practiced. Over time, it can become second nature and add to each partner's self awareness - both of which always improves relationships.