New Year, New Lifestyle: How to Help Your Partner Make a Change

by | Feb 15, 2012

by Nancy Travers,LCSW

At the beginning of every year, we start thinking about the aspects of our life that needs a little boost. Whether it\’s our physical fitness, our mental health, or just trying something new, many of us start attempting to make life changes early in the year. It can be difficult to make changes yourself, but many find it just as hard to help your significant other while they make their own lifestyle adjustments. If you find yourself confused about how to help your partner accomplish their goals, consider these tips:

Respect your partner\’s decision to make a change. Committing to any kind of change, especially a major goal like ditching a bad habit or starting a new routine, can be hard for anyone. It\’s especially difficult if your partner doesn\’t support you in your decision and your new needs. While your partner is working to make a change in their lifestyle, you should work with them on this decision. Respect any decisions that they are making to further their goal. This may mean working with them to buy healthier food choices during grocery shopping, being more flexible with the tasks and schedules at home while they\’re working in sessions at the gym or counselor\’s office, or even working trying to make the change with them.

Communicate about the change. It can be difficult to support a change that you don\’t understand, and sometimes it may seem like your partner\’s goals came out of left field. Instead of just assuming that the goal is irrational and unimportant to your partner, talk about what inspired the change. Knowing that your partner is worried that they may follow a family trend, or that they want to feel better physically or mentally can help you to be supportive. Being able to pinpoint the motivation and the desired results can help you respect the goal and the changes. It may also give you clues about how to provide the best support to your partner during the process.

Ask your partner what kind of support they need. Every person needs a different kind of support and encouragement. In fact, you can almost guarantee that! Some people require physical comfort and emotional support; others need esteem support and encouragement; still others need informational support and advice; while some want tangible support and help tackling responsibilities. If you\’re unsure of what your partner needs in their new situation, ask. You may be able to guess from your past interactions, but hearing needs directly from your partner will ensure that you can provide the kind of support that they expect.

Don\’t try to solve your partner\’s problems. When we begin taking on our goals, it can be frustrating when someone jumps in and fixes all of our problems for us. Don\’t attempt to do the same for your partner. Sometimes, problem solving feels like helping. The final goal is closer to finished! However, when someone solves problems for you, sense of ownership, esteem, and accomplishment may not be there. Having ownership of the success helps lifestyle changes stick. If you are doing the work for your partner, how will they stay motivated?

Work with your partner to maintain balance in both of your lives while they work on their goals. Lifestyle changes affect everyone in the household. Whether it is the way that you eat, the way that you communicate, or the way that you schedule chores and social engagements, everyone will feel the effects of new routines, or new restrictions. Work with your partner to re-establish balance. Do you need to change the home\’s chore schedule so that a session at the gym can be accommodated? Do your social engagements need to be made less frequent, or moved to different days? Working to accommodate your partner while making sure that everyone\’s needs are met will be beneficial in many ways. You will be able to ensure that your family life remains stable. Striking a new balance will also ensure that you do not resent your partner for trying to make a positive change.

Offer your partner realistic encouragement. Encouragement is wonderful. It helps to hear that all of your efforts are paying off. This only holds true if the encouragement seems genuine. Exaggerating your partner\’s success doesn\’t truly benefit them, or you. In fact, it may seem like you aren\’t invested in helping them with their goal if you are too over the top. Instead of giving praise that goes above and beyond, try frequent comments about the small changes that you do see.

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