Over the summer MD Weight Loss has been hosting weekly groups called “Education & Exercise”. It’s a time to review helpful ideas for health management and spend some time building community. We recently started to ask for participant questions to guide our educational topics and one of them was about how to get your spouse / partner involved in making lifestyle changes. This article is a summary of the talk given and follow up participant discussion:
Getting a partner or spouse involved in making lifestyle changes can be a wonderful way to strengthen your relationship and support each other’s growth and well-being. Remember, healthy relationships are one of the 6 pillars of lifestyle medicine!
Engage in open, honest communication: Start by having a conversation about the lifestyle changes you’d like to make and why they are important not only to you, but to why you feel they are important for the health of the relationship. Listen to your partner’s thoughts and feelings, and be empathetic to their perspective as well.
Sadly, I listen to a lot of people knowing that the majority of their issues could be resolved if they were better able to communicate with each other. An excellent resource for anyone is the book “Crucial Conversations. Tools for Talking When Stakes are High”. It’s an invaluable resource for when you have to have a conversation with your partner where these 3 things are involved:
Stakes are high
Emotions run strong and
Find common goals: Identify shared goals that both of you can work towards together. When you have common objectives, it becomes easier to motivate and support each other. Are you getting ready for a vacation and you want to be more active to be able to explore more while away? Are you getting ready to retire and want to make the most of the time you have together now that you are no longer working all the time? Do you want to set a good example for your children and teach them how to live a healthy lifestyle? If you’re both pulling in the same direction, you’re going to reach that goal but if you’re involved in a 2 person game of tug-of-war, you will either be at a stalemate or someone loses.
QUIETLY lead by example: This means you simply do what you need to do and don’t worry too much if anyone follows along right away. Be patient (I know this is hard). Be a role model by implementing the lifestyle changes in your own life first. Your actions can inspire your partner or friends or others to follow suit and show them that the changes are manageable, sustainable and rewarding. Remember, you only have to be one step ahead of someone to lead…the question is, where are you leading them?
Start small and be realistic: Don’t overwhelm your partner with drastic changes all at once. Involve your partner in the planning process. Discuss and decide together on the changes you want to make, how to implement them, and what the timeline might look like.
Maybe you’re the type of person who gets in the pool by jumping in off the high diving board but your partner takes little baby steps down the stairs and needs to test the waters a little before hitting the water. If you are the “jump right in type”, try encouraging them to take small, achievable steps that they can comfortably incorporate into your daily routines regardless of whether or not they are doing the exact same thing you are doing. Remember, any improvement is better than no improvement so reinforce positive changes with positive feedback and forget the negative feedback when they don’t get things “just right” according to your standards.
Support each other’s interests: Be open to exploring each other’s interests and finding compromises that align with both your preferences. This way, you can discover new activities that you both enjoy and that contribute to your shared lifestyle goals. This is a big one. You don’t have to have all the same common interests but you do need to be willing to explore new ideas and activities as opportunities present themselves. How do you know you won’t like something if you’ve never tried it? I wasn’t a runner until I met Jonathan.(I dabbled in occasionally making my feet go faster than a walk but only very rarely!) When I said I wanted to try crazy things like starting to do triathlons, he encouraged me…never once did he say “I don’t think you’re going to be able to do that”. If your partner is excited about trying something new and it’s not likely to cause them harm, why not join in and participate or at least cheer from the sidelines?
Make it FUN! Incorporate enjoyable activities into your lifestyle changes. For instance, if you’re trying to be more active, engage in fun sports or outdoor activities together. Be silly, act more like a kid sometimes, laugh and enjoy the time you spend together.
You may just find your relationship strengthened in the process of finding more common interests.
Celebrate successes together: Whenever you or your partner achieve a milestone or make progress towards your goals, celebrate it together. Positive reinforcement can reinforce the commitment to the changes you’re making. Be your partner’s biggest cheerleader! Too often I hear comments from partners where one downplays the achievements of the other. THIS IS NOT HELPFUL! What I love seeing is partners giving each other a high five and positive feedback when they have done well and reaching out with a helping hand to pull them back to their feet when they have stumbled.
Change takes time, and it’s essential to be patient with your partner’s progress. Encourage them even if there are setbacks, and provide support during challenging times.
Create a supportive environment: Make your home environment conducive to your lifestyle changes. For example, if you’re adopting a healthier diet, ensure there are nutritious food options readily available at home. All too often, people actually tend to fail themselves because they use the excuse of their partner or family as the reason for bringing junk food into the home. “My husband needs it” or “I was having the grandchildren over and they need snacks”. Don’t throw your partner under the bus or use your family as an excuse for your own choices. Changing the home environment and setting some ground rules for what does and does not come into the house makes it easier for you and your partner to be successful in making sustained lifestyle changes.
Practice empathy: Acknowledge that everyone’s journey is unique, and your partner may have their struggles. Show understanding and empathy, and avoid judgment or criticism. We all know this doesn’t work but we persist in repeating behaviours that haven’t worked in the past, expecting things to magically change in the future. If what you are currently doing to engage your partner isn’t working…STOP DOING IT! Try something else and you just might find you get different results!
Remember, the key is to approach these changes as a team effort. Support, understanding, and collaboration are vital components of making lifestyle changes together with your partner or spouse.
Patterson, K., Grenny, J., McMillan, R., & Switzler, A. (2012). Crucial conversations: Tools for talking when stakes are high. New York: McGraw-Hill.