May 22, 2012

Guest Post: How can you best support your partner?

Sarah & Jack
I get lots of questions from women who feel alone and isolated when attempting to lose weight and get healthy. Sometimes our partners are supportive of the idea of our weight loss plan, but become resistive when we remove the Cheetos from the pantry or need an hour to hit the gym. So for today's post, I've asked my husband, an expert on compassion and support, to share his thoughts on this topic. My question to him? 

Question: How can you best support someone you love who is trying to get healthy and lose weight? 

My wife asked me to do a guest post today about the ways in which partners can best support their spouses on the weight loss journey.  I’m thankful that Sarah feels supported by me and I’m incredibly proud of her success!  I’m also grateful to have lost 30lbs of my own as a result of piggy-backing off of her hard work!  I have a LOT to say on this topic – probably too much!  I’m so enthusiastic about it because Sarah’s journey has reaffirmed for me that self-directed, intentional change around a big challenge in your life is possible – and sustainable!  But you need support to do it.

1. You’re on the journey together.  Embrace change.  
This is the most important thing to remember.  The entire family is involved.  As you’ve probably seen if you are a follower of “Smaller Sarah”, the experience of weight loss is one that touches many fundamental aspects of your life: your food, your time, your feelings, and your relationships – just to name a few.  If you’re not just going for a “quick fix” and trying to create lasting change, this will cause shifts in all these areas.  Be ready for the process to be messy at first.  It’s a lot easier to stay in a familiar routine and you may feel resistance to having to take “her” journey all the time.  (More on this below). The good news is that, as Sarah’s diet, health, and energy levels improve, so do ours.  Our awareness as a couple of the food choices available to us, as well as the implications of those choices, becomes clearer.  Our kids’ diet improves.  We sleep better, feel better, have better sex (TMI?) and generally feel more vibrant, happy, and content. 

I know, I know.  I can hear the voices of resistance now – “This sounds like a lot of work.  I like things the way they are.  I’m comfortable.  I just want to come home and relax.  I don’t want to try the new cauliflower soup.  I want to eat what I like after a hard day at work.  I’ve earned it.  If she’s going to eat differently and make other choices, fine.  Just don’t ask me to change anything about my life!”  When I hear my resistance to giving up something that would help Sarah continue this journey and I come to my senses, I often ask myself, “Do you notice the ways in which she gives up things for you and for your sons every day?”  “Do you notice how giving up something changes her, moves her closer to you, and facilitates many important things in your life?”  Step back for a minute and take a wider view.  If what you are being asked to change “for her” will also benefit you in the long run, why not change it?  It’s your journey too.  Embrace the change!

(Quick Tip:  If you are reading this and interested in trying to get your partner to “go along” on your weight loss plan, do what Sarah did and start small.  In our first conversation, Sarah asked me to watch the kids for 30-45 minutes in the morning so that she could take a walk.  That was it.  It made it easy to say “yes”.)

2. Say "Yes"
Which brings me to my next point: whenever possible, say “Yes”.  “Yes” to a new walking routine.  “Yes” to cutting down on sugar.  “Yes” to real running shoes.  “Yes” to boot camp classes.  “Yes” – as much as possible.  When you aren’t adding external resistance to the journey, it’s easier for everyone.

3. Listen
As Sarah has documented on this blog, there are lots of twists and turns along the path of weight loss.  New and sometimes conflicting information comes to light about diet and exercise.  Unexpected emotions arise, her body feels different, and people react to her in new ways.  Her confidence can sometimes flag and she can encounter larger than expected levels of internal resistance to change.  The most important thing I can do in these situations is to listen.

Listen.  Your presence is really all she needs.  Give her plenty of space to falter, pick herself up, and re-engage.  When you have something to say, listen more.  If she asks you for your opinion, wait until she’s asked at least three times before you give it.  When you do, limit it to one observation.  This is the time to cultivate your inner pitching coach.  When she is in the middle of a competition (especially one against herself) that is not the time to talk to her about the finer points of her technique.  Keep it simple.  Keep her focused on the goal and the next tangible step.  Tell her you love her and that you know she can do it.  Look what she’s already done!

4. Extra creditThink ahead.  
(I’m still working on this one myself.)  When you have started to master embracing change, saying “yes”, and listening, you’re ready for the big leagues.  Once she’s in a routine with a regimen that is working, find ways to help it along without her asking.  Take the kids for an hour so she can go for a run.  Clean the juicer so she can use it first thing in the morning.  Notice when the supply of lettuce is getting low and bring some home, etc.  These actions communicate that you are behind her 100% and they readily translate into feelings of support.  Think about it - when you come home after work and the kids are happy, or the house is clean, or dinner is ready and waiting for you, how confident do you feel?  Probably as confident as she starts to feel when you think ahead.

So that’s it.  It’s simple really.  Simple, but not easy.  I am by no means perfect at supporting Sarah.  I sometimes falter.  I sometimes get frustrated.  But the benefits I have seen in Sarah, myself, and in our lives together far outweigh my momentary inertia.  After all, she’s really doing the heavy lifting – and not just in boot camp! 

Finally, I want to thank all of you, dear readers, for your support of my wife this year.  Your comments, questions and encouragement have meant the world to her and, when she makes her goal, it will be your victory too!  That’s the not-so-hidden benefit of being a supporter: vicarious victory!  Best wishes on YOUR journey to a smaller YOU!    


Karri said...

Bravo! Sarah is very fortunate to have such a thoughtful and supportive partner, and I hope your advice is taken to heart by someone else's.

Amber said...

Wow. That's an amazing man right there - I'm speechless and in awe.
Thank you for sharing your perspective on Sarah's journey, Jack. I love this blog - you are both such captivating writers!

Anonymous said...

That was awesome! Great to have a wonderful partner :)

Jacki said...

what wonderful and insightful advice on being supportive! I love this so much, and will be sharing far and wide! I love you both so much!

Anonymous said...

You guys never cease to amaze me. Thank you for always bringing light into my world. <3

anita said...

How wonderful to have such tremendous support.
Getting healthy (and sustaining a healthy lifestyle) is so much easier with a partner who is on board.
Bravo, Jack!! You rock - almost as much as Sarah! ;)

Poppy Q said...

Awesome stuff Jack. Nothing wrong with everyone in the family being healthier, and to have the support of your loved ones is soo important. I so admire your journey.

Julie q