My need for external reassurance as a woman came home to me many birthdays ago. I decided to test everyone (especially Honey) by making no reference to my personal holiday during the entire month of January. The results were devastating. Not a single soul—parent, child, sister, friend, husband (gasp)—remembered. The red-letter day came and went without a whimper. Now, before you scream “Revolution!” (which I came close to doing at the time) let me add this: Honey was under huge pressure at work, serving tirelessly at church, and acutely worried over finances. He comforted, cuddled, and counseled with tenderness. It’s just that his calendar was off.

When I realized that accusation would never produce a bottle of perfume, the truth hit me like a whiff of cheap cologne: I had been thinking for too long that it was my guy’s primary job in life to make me feel good, to heal all my wounds, to spend every possible minute with me, to be emotionally available and responsive 24/7, to always want what I want. I had set myself up for disillusionment.

Thankfully, I wised up and made a course correction that stuck. My birthday is now advertised far and wide and way in advance. I am responsible to ask for and inspire special attention on January 27. Healthy, balanced doses of giving and receiving from family, friends, God, and myself, keeps my tank full. His three little words (“I love you”) then top me off and overflow into a puddle at our feet.

And that’s the secret. Fill your own tank by taking responsibility for your own happiness.

There is a simple way to get started, or continue, in the habit of filling your own tank so that you can give from abundance while receiving with confidence. I don’t mean to make it sound easy—we are talking about the greatest challenge of a woman’s life, the seesaw between nurturing herself and nurturing others—but I know you can do it.

Here’s how:

Make a list, an inventory of at least ten things—the longer, the better—you do, or can do, or would like to do, that delight your heart—that is, ten ordinary, everyday things that make you feel good: a lot of simple, feel-good activities so that you can choose one or two or more every day—no matter how busy you are.

Sit at the piano for a few minutes. Go for a run. Meet up with girlfriends. Take pictures, draw, watch TV, plant flowers, or write letters. I also love walking outdoors, singing out loud, and dancing to the radio. A piece of costume jewelry does wonders, and fresh pillowcases or a new kitchen towel make the world beautiful again. Read, meditate, do yoga, journal, or blog. These may be little things, but that is what delighting your heart is about: ordinary things that take minor effort, time, and money, but produce so many benefits:

  1. You relieve everyone in your life and family from the impossible responsibility of making or keeping you happy from day to day.
  2. You free your heart to spend less energy on stress and self-pity, and far more energy on those you love.
  3. You feel better and better about yourself, stronger and stronger at heart.
  4. Your mental, emotional, and spiritual self-reliance will increase so that disillusionment cannot get a foothold, either in early marriage or in mid-life, when many women discover they have given to the point of exhaustion.
  5. Confidence in and satisfaction with yourself will undergird all your relationships, especially your marriage. You will have more love to give.
  6. Romance and reality can merge into a union of heart and mind. Because you have more patience, you won’t be offended so easily, you’ll forgive more readily, and you will have more fun and more romance.

And here’s the best part: if you do it right, just the way I’ve told you, romancing your own heart will make you irresistible. Your inner contentment and genuine cheerfulness will draw him to you. Want irrefutable proof? In the 30 plus years since the birthday debacle, my Honey’s never missed–––thanking me for the reminder.

This article originally appeared on the international website Intent

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Ramona Zabriskie on Email
Ramona Zabriskie
Ramona Zabriskie, a wife of 41 years, is the multi-award winning author of Wife for Life: The Power to Succeed in Marriage and the celebrated marriage mentor and global educator of the 5-star WifeSavers Podcast, the WifeSavers Education Membership, and the acclaimed one-of-a-kind virtual school for women, Wife for Life University. Turn your marriage around in a thrilling way with her new free ebook, 5 Lies We Tell Brides and 5 Truths That Save Wives.