I want to take a moment to encourage the people around me making healthy changes. As a provider I have seen that when you start to take care of your physical health, your relational and mental health will naturally start to improve and change. I think it boils down to boundaries. If you decide that to exercise; you start to delegate and make boundaries with your time and availability. This benefits you profusely. But guess who doesn’t like this? The people who rely on you to be a bottomless cup that just keeps pouring into their care, and their value. The people who can only comprehend you exactly as you are, who may not consciously realize they don’t support your personal growth, but who are not willing to grow themselves to accommodate you.
It can be strange to suddenly look in at your own life and see which people are saying: “I want you to be your happiest and live as fully as you want.” And which people are saying: “I want to take care of you, I want to keep you under control because that’s what I need.”. This looks different for everyone right? You don’t have to do a certain list of things, extravagant or simple to be living a full and happy life, it is totally up to the individual. However I hope that you occasionally take stock of the people around you and who you love because I must tell you dear patients, there are some who will be holding you hostage to an older version of yourself. This may be a version of yourself that you have outgrown but these relationships won’t allow you to grow, they won’t allow you to be yourself. Some people will be flexible and learn your new values and support you and others won’t understand you. This is a painful and sometimes heartbreaking realization.
If we set a boundary with someone, a new boundary, and their immediate reaction is to ignore it, shame you for it, or try to undermine you, you should notice that.
Here’s an example:
Person 1: “I want to start exercising Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, so I’m going to ask the baby sitter to stay another hour and a half those days, it will cost 40 more dollars a week.”
Person 2: “You don’t really mean, that, you won’t go! I’m not spending money on that, you’re just wasting our money and time, you never actually go to the gym. No way.”
Person 1: “I am going to try eating more servings of veggies every day; so I’ll be trying some new dinners this week. Is there anything you’d like to request? I’ll have to shop tomorrow.”
Person 2: “I won’t eat that shit. I don’t like vegetables you know that. It will just rot in the fridge, don’t waste money on that. You have to make stuff that I like because I don’t have time to cook, I’m at work.”
Woah right? Reading this stuff written out it seems obvious that these are harsh reactions. But do you know how many conversations I have in my office that involve these exact dialogues??? EVERYDAY. In neither example did Person 2 even recognize that Person 1 is trying to do something new and good for themselves, they didn’t even ask them anything about it! Person 1 was direct, open, and tried to ask for input and they were SHUT DOWN. If you’re like me (female) there are days of the month where these kinds of responses would shut me down for good, there are days where it might lead to a fight, and there are days where I would be able to have a rational conversation with Person 2. (To be fair, in my old age my patience for rational conversation is getting smaller, these are my needs, these are my boundaries, deal with it! But maybe that’s too stubborn too.)
Let’s say you are Person 2 now, your partner comes home all excited and they want to make a change. How can we be more supportive?
Person 1: “ I don’t want to watch as much tv, I’d like to try an hour or less every day. I might be spending more time in the garage working on projects.”
Person 2: “Oh, I didn’t know you were concerned about that, did something happen? That makes me nervous because that’s when we spend a lot of time together. Do you think less of me because I still like to watch tv? Could we make a deal to spend more time together doing something else (the dishes, clean the kitchen, go for a walk, date night for sure every week)?”
Person 1: “I’m tired of the sugar and wasted money of buying a coffee every day. I’m going to invest in this $40 thermos and a $100 coffee pot so I can make it at home and take it to work.”
Person 2: “Woah, hang on. That sounds like a lot of money, let me think about that. I didn’t know you were worried about this, have you been reviewing our budget? Do you think we need to be saving more money? I have also been wanting to eat less sugar and it’s been so hard, so I’m frustrated, nothing I have tried has worked to lose any weight. I would like to try it too, but I can use the to-go cup I already have.”
Here Person 2 is trying to at least stop their knee jerk reaction to say no. They try to repeat back a little, or ask a question about what is going on for their partner. They are trying to understand them a little. Couples that lose their shared values are in trouble and it's important to explain why you'd like to make a change. Often the harsh reactions come from something in those last examples, their boundary triggers our own inadequacy: Do you look down on me now for the choices I’m making? I’ve been making the dinners for 5 years, are you mad at me for not serving enough veggies? I’ve been overweight since I lost my job, do you think I should be going to the gym? Will you not love me if I don’t (FILL IN THE BLANK). We have to be gentle with ourselves and the ones we love. If you can learn to navigate these things, talk it out, actually be vulnerable with each other, you will both grow and find a new normal that makes you happier than you were before. If it gets stuck in the conflict area, self care starts to feel scary and toxic, like you might lose your partner over it. This thought can scare anyone into giving up and not choosing a healthy new habit. There can be times where a partner who won't support you is a serious problem, and plenty of times where it is just a lack of communication.
Generally as people start down a new health path, I recommend that they don’t make big relational changes right away. We have to give people a change to adapt to our new values, a chance to understand them. It’s hard for me to understand if we as a society are loosing our abilities to grow and change within a relationship or if we are more empowered now as individuals to make ourselves happy which may just mean our types of relationships are going to change throughout our lives differently than they have historically. Either way, if you want to make a healthy change for your self but feel nothing but resistance from your peer group or your family, know that your health providers are here for you. We support you. You will grow into the new spaces and meet new people who DO want to get smoothies instead of beers, who DO want to go hiking before going to the brewery, and who DO want you to be happier than you were yesterday.
Stories, projects, and ideas from office to farm. Be well! Dr. J