Helping a mate make lifestyle changes

It is heartwarming when partners share lifestyle preferences. Yet, most pairs have differences in their tastes, wishes, habits, choices and conduct. Some of which may distress their mates. How can these differences be handled well to reduce conflict and increase couple’s harmony

Couples delight with their early matching lifestyle choices may change with time as new conduct of one mate may become unsatisfactory to the partner. Some common difficulties discussed in therapy include the spouse’s self-care habits such as overeating, drinking, weight gain, substance abuse or physical care practices. When the dissatisfied mate’s concerns are heard but not heeded, he/she may resort to criticism, shaming, threats or ultimatums. Those methods are usually ineffectual and are detrimental to the pair’s relationship.

Research about behavior change confirms that negative input from a partner is an unlikely motivator for personal change. In “Social Cognitive Theory” Albert Bandura of Stanford University states, “What people think, believe, and feel, affects how they behave… People are neither driven by inner forces nor automatically shaped and controlled by the environment. They function as contributors to their own motivation, behavior and development within a network of reciprocally interacting influences.”

Some partners resort to shaming, discrediting and using demeaning characterizations of their partner in their desperate attempt to prompt the mate to alter his/her ways. Shaming, belittling, name-calling and negative depictions of the mate’s conduct or appearance are most likely to induce self-shaming that inhibits the spouse’s motivation for change and distances him/her from the beloved.

One’s behavior change is unlikely to occur in response to disapproving messages by a partner. The mate, however, can have an essential role in helping the partner modify his/her habits by abstaining from discounting phrases and adopting positive affirmations and offers of help. Helpful words encourage success and demonstrate compassion, understanding of the difficulty of change and admiration for the spouse’s strength and perseverance.

In “Partner support and other determinants of smoking cessation maintenance among women” H. Catherina Coppotelli and C. Tracy Orleans found that “Partner Facilitation conduct was the primary predictor of smoking cessation, and accurately identified more than 80% of both successful and unsuccessful outcomes.”

Stanford University researcher, Alfred Bandura wrote, “The self-regulation of conduct is not entirely an intra-psychic affair. Rather, it involves a reciprocity of influence between thought, conduct, and a network of social influences.” He adds, “Individuals do things that give them self-satisfaction and a sense of self-worth. They refrain from behaving in ways that violate their moral standards because it will bring self-disapproval. Among the types of thoughts that affect action, none is more central or pervasive than people’s judgments of their capabilities to exercise control over events that affect their lives.”

To help your mate change:

  • Remember that your help is crucial in facilitating your mate’s motivation to change.
  • Use Dr. Bandura’s advice, “Express validation, appreciation and trust in the mate’s capacity to change and offer ongoing support and admiration throughout the mate’s process.”


















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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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