“Change is the only constant in life,” wrote Greek philosopher Heraclitus. Whether one chooses to make a life change for a New Year’s resolution, due to illness, a spring change, or an unexpected job transition, you or someone you love will inevitably face a time when you want to make a change. Transitions of this sort can be challenging in a relationship, especially if only one of you is making the change. But strong partnerships rely on flexibility and learning to play a supportive role can give your relationship a better chance at thriving.
A time to quit
Every year, many people make the necessary decision to quit drinking or smoking to improve their lives and health. Whatever your partner’s reasoning, the process can initially put a strain on a relationship.
When a partner announces they’ll be quitting their unhealthy behavior, you may be tempted to take on the unhelpful role of warden. “Don’t hold them accountable,” says Nicole Amesbury, a licensed counselor and founder of Talkspace, an online therapy website where you can chat with licensed counselors. “Often when a loved one announces they are going to try and change an unhealthy habit, well-intentioned family members and friends sometimes act as the police and remind the person when they slip up. This can cause the person trying to change to feel shamed or judged,” she says.
Instead, she suggests, “Listen openly without trying to solve. Be as flexible as possible.” She adds, “If you or your loved one is experiencing high levels of stress, anger or other intense emotions, it is best to consult a therapist who has experience in this area.”
Health in the balance
It can be unsettling when you’re comfortably a couch potato in an exclusive relationship with your potato chips, but your significant other has decided to make a radical diet change. Samantha Markovitz, a Mayo Clinic-trained wellness and life coach and founder of Gracemark.org, sympathizes, saying, “Supporting a loved one’s healthy lifestyle change is an important responsibility that can sometimes feel like a burden.” She recommends three things you can do for them and yourself:
1. Try to make the change with your partner, or at the least, support them by not indulging in the negative behavior. This could mean taking the unhealthy foods out of the house, not drinking alcohol at dinner, or supporting their gym time.
2. Remember that your support can make the difference in your partner’s ability to be successful.
3. Resist the reflex to push your partner when they have a lapse.
Dr. Kelly Baez, a licensed counselor and founder of FitShrink adds, “Understand that your partner’s healthy changes are not about you. If overeating was your thing as a couple, try to identify what you got from that and look for other ways to make that connection.”
Support your partner on and off the job
Changes in work or vocation, which have a direct connection to one’s financial security, are the toughest to deal with in a relationship. When a partner loses a job or wants to change to a new one, you can feel like you want to engage in unhelpful behavior. Roy Cohen, career coach and author of The Wall Street Professional’s Survival Guide, cautions, “Never blame your spouse. Guilt and fear are familiar emotional responses for the unemployed. It’s important to provide them with some space, time and breathing room.”
He recommends that if your partner has lost or wants to leave a job, ask them what you can do to help minimize the financial burden. “Although you may resent the fact that your life and routine have changed, that change may only be temporary, so spare the angst and try to minimize the drama around the ‘sacrifice’ you are making.”
Regardless of the nature or reasons for your partner’s life change, you have the best chance of a successful outcome if you can: support rather than judge; listen rather than blame; seek help from professionals; and look toward a healthier future together.