After 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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