If Change Is for the Better, Why Is My Relationship Worse?

Upset couple not talking to each other after fightAfter a period of contemplation, research, and plan development, you embark on a journey of self-improvement. It could be eating healthier, exercising more, going back to school, or abstaining from cigarettes or alcohol. The benefits of these lifestyle changes include improved physical, emotional, and psychological wellness, as well as a potential increase in self-esteem.

Considering all the positives associated with making healthy lifestyle changes, it can be confusing and frustrating when those closest to you do not embrace or support your changes. It can even feel as if those closest to you are trying to sabotage your health transformation.

A part of making healthy lifestyle changes can include making changes to your relationships, particularly relationships that attempt to thwart your progress. A healthier you can bring up feelings of insecurity and jealousy in intimate relationships and friendships. For example, your weight loss could lead your partner to feel that you may no longer be attracted to him or her or become fearful that you will want to end the relationship. Insecurity in and of itself does not necessarily warrant ending the relationship; however, if insecurity leads to controlling behaviors, making unrealistic demands, increased immature behavior and acting out, or mental and physical threats, the relationship may not survive (and maybe should not survive) your changes. Becoming healthier may require you to be in a healthier relationship, forcing you to end relationships that have dysfunctional dynamics.

Although it is not always easy to end relationships, it can be easy to identify those around you who do not have your best interests in mind. More perplexing is the fact that even in healthy and supportive relationships, change can be a difficult pill to swallow. Take, for example, the child of a parent who abuses alcohol and is emotionally uninvolved. For years, the child begs the parent to stop drinking and finally, when the child is a teenager, the parent stops drinking. Now the parent checks the teen’s homework, sets curfews, and gives chores, which leaves the teen wishing that the parent did not stop drinking. Even though the parent’s increased involvement is beneficial for both the parent and teen, in the immediate aftermath of the change, the teen feels resistant.

If the change stays consistent, however, the relationship will likely thrive in a more structured and emotionally stable environment. In such cases, it is important to maintain relationships through your change process. When making healthy lifestyle changes that impact your relationships, consider the following:

  1. Relationships need time to adjust and adapt to change. Healthy lifestyle changes can be challenging. According to the American Cancer Society, most smokers attempt to quit numerous times before they ultimately stop smoking. If change is hard for you, you can expect that some changes will be hard for intimate partners to adapt to. Recognizing that others have the ability to be supportive but need time to adjust to your healthy changes can provide you with more patience and understanding for those struggling to adapt.
  2. Let others know you are making changes. Relationships can be unintentionally harmed when those close to you are unaware that you are making changes; family members and friends may make incorrect assumptions about your altered behaviors. There is a difference in communicating “I can’t hang out tonight” versus “Since I am focused on getting my grades up, I’m going to be studying on the weekend.” The limited amount of information shared in the first statement can lead to a host of assumptions, such as you are ignoring your friends, have better plans, or that there is some kind of conflict in the relationship. The second statement expresses your need, making it easier for your friends to respect your changed behavior. Another benefit of openness: the more people you share your changes with, the more people you can have to support your efforts in changing.
  3. Be clear about why you are making changes. Acceptance is a major component of healthy relationships. Your desire to change may confuse those who already accept you as you are. Questions such as “Why are you going back to church?” or “Why don’t you want to eat out?” or “How come you stopped doing that?” may not be meant to derail your change process, but may be genuine questions of confusion. Once clarified, those who are already accepting of you may begin to show more support for the changes you are making. This is important because a strong support system helps to facilitate and maintain healthy decision-making.
  4. Recognize how your changes impact others. You may have signed up to drink kale smoothies, go to yoga, or join a book club, but your partner or friends did not. You cannot force others to change and must learn to respect that even though others may not change, it does not necessarily mean they do not respect or support the changes you are making. Have you been around the friend who gave up sugar and carbs and then looked at you side-eyed when you ordered a milkshake? It’s not that you are unsupportive of his or her journey; it’s just that your friend’s journey is not your journey. If those close to you respect your changes, you might also have to learn to respect their desire to not change.

A healthy you equals healthier relationships. Getting others on board with your desired changes and allowing time for relationships to adjust can help strengthen your commitment to change, motivate you to end dysfunctional relationships, and improve already positive relationships.

© Copyright 2015 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Kimber Shelton, PhD, Solution-Focused Brief Therapy Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • kaye

    May 11th, 2015 at 10:15 AM

    hmmm I have seen this where one of the partners wants a change but the other is content the way things are and they somehow get threatened or something by that change.

  • Alicia

    May 11th, 2015 at 3:12 PM

    I am convinced that my husband left me in the end because I lost weight. When we got married we were both pretty healthy but you know as I had babies and stiff, my health kind of fell last on the list of my priorities. I gained a lot of weight while my husband still stayed slim. When I decided to make some changes at first he really supported me but then the more I got fit the more jealous I think that he became. I don’t think that he would ever say it but I think that he liked having something that he felt better about himself than me about and when he didn’t have that anymore he left.

  • Brett

    May 12th, 2015 at 10:50 AM

    You may think that you are doing something when you make these changes that will only influenceyou but it is very likely that this will have an impact on someone else too and there could be the chance that this other person is not going to be ready to take those changes.

    That does not mean that you shouldn’t want to do different things, but it does mean that you have to be willing to at least think about how this is going to affect the other people in your life.

  • royce c

    May 12th, 2015 at 4:46 PM

    In my experience it is the person who initiates the change who then usually pulls away from the prior relationships and causes the rift , like they start acting like they are all better than you and stuff

  • Max

    May 13th, 2015 at 1:53 PM

    The first person that you have to make happy is yourself. And if that means making some changes in your life that do not suit other people, then perhaps it could be the time to start looking for other people to be with. I know that those can be hard things to do. Change overall is never going to be easy and there will be some times when there are consequences that you may not have wanted. But if this is the right move for you then everything else will eventually fall into place. Look, if someone is not going to support you, then do you really need them in your life anyway?

  • phil

    May 16th, 2015 at 5:34 AM

    Change is good, but change is hard. There is no doubt about that. And not only is it going to be hard for the person who is changing but it might also be difficult for those who have to live with this person too. It is a very rare thing when you are wanting to do something differently in your own life that it will only touch you- most of the time, like it or not, there will be others who are also impacted by the choices that you make. Even if this is something that is going to be good for you, it is very important to think about other people in your life as well.

  • Reshma P.

    May 17th, 2015 at 8:43 PM

    I m in a mess,need help

  • The GoodTherapy.org Team

    May 18th, 2015 at 9:28 AM

    Thank you for your comment, Reshma. We wanted to provide links to some resources that may be relevant to you here. We have more information about what to do in a crisis at https://www.goodtherapy.org/in-crisis.html

    If you would like to find a therapist through GoodTherapy.org, please to go on our advanced search and use it to find exactly what you’re looking for. You may also call our toll-free Find-A-Therapist line at 888-563-2112 ext. 1. We hope that helps!

    Warm regards,
    The GoodTherapy.org Team

  • Miriam

    May 18th, 2015 at 10:23 AM

    they probably feel threatened that you are going to grow past them and will leave them so there is a threat in that and the only way that they know how to protect themselves form those feelings is to turn it around and make it like this is a bad thing that you want to do.

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