Three times in one week? Seriously? And again this morning a student pulled me aside to privately share with me that she and her husband were going through a "rocky period" and in the midst of a temporary separation. Sadly, I’m confident this person’s identity is protected despite this blog mention. Why? Because regrettably I have had the same conversation with three students in my fitness classes in this last week.
The truth is I've been delicately denying this sometimes seemingly related side effect of fitness.
It’s not an immediate side effect, but rather one that seems to develop as the newly fit person’s confidence improves and their priorities shift. It's far deeper than fitness, but with regret I must admit that it's not the first time I've felt like I could have done more to help! Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not a martyr who thinks they can save every broken bird. I’m not a therapist nor do I think that I have the training to interfere in a troubled marriage. I am however a resource for people embarking on a journey of a better life. Knowledge is power.
This is a call to action! This is a challenge to all fitness professionals and a warning to those of you who seek to begin your fitness journey and desire, in the process, to grow closer to your dearest friends, family and partner in the process.
Distance, resentment, jealously and fear; these are just a few of the emotions felt by someone whose friend or a partner experiences a rather dramatic change in lifestyle, personality or physical appearance. The side effects are rarely immediate, but seems to appear after a newfound confidence emerges.
As a Lifestyle and Fitness Coach my goal has always been to help people live better, fuller, richer, more propose filled lives. People might come to me to help them lose weight or tighten their tummies, but my first priority has always been to help them change their lifestyle for the better. I teach people to live balanced, healthy, happy lives, not obsessed with “perfect eating” or a certain number on the scale but rather to strike a balance in all areas. To do that I have to earn a level of trust and respect with people. I can’t inspire someone in just one video or in one class, but if they like my workout, they might like me. If they like me then maybe they’ll read my writings, follow my blog, listen to my motivation cd’s, sit in the audience with an open heart in one of my presentations and begin to understand that genuinely want to see people be happier.
I have always sought to help people enjoy better relationships and fuller, richer lives. Through my programs like Turbo Jam, Turbo Kick, or ChaLEAN Extreme, I have been invited into many people’s homes. Day after day they watch my videos and begin to feel they know me. Subconsciously they invite me to be a part of their lives. It’s an honor I take seriously. I work to include as many life improving tips in everything that I do, and not just fitness or nutrition, but things that help you become more aware of others. Because really…what’s the point of being fit, if you’re not happy?
The benefits of living a healthy, happy life are abundant. Yet in today's conversation with another newly separated and recently fit friend has brought me to the realization that as fitness professionals and coaches we must recognize the obligation to help people live happier lives. We must educate those we help as to the potential pitfalls of health and fitness. There are a few negatives…
1. You may have to buy a whole new wardrobe
2. You may have to extend your life insurance policy (as you’re certainly going to live longer)
3. You may find yourself not wanting to hang around people who have sedentary, unhealthy, depressing lifestyles.
4. “Haters” may be jealous of your newly toned booty!
5. Finally, as your waistline, interests, habits and lifestyle shifts, so too do your relationships with others.
The last thing in the world I want for people is to have fitness to drive a wedge between partners. Improving your marriage, strengthening your important relationships is even more important to me than improving your bicep strength. However, when it comes to friends, there are those who want the best for you and those who want a “buddy” who will make them feel comfortable about their own unhealthy decisions. Let go of that loser! Remain friendly, but to invest in yourself, you can no longer make with draws for these types of individuals. They may mean well, but they are not holding you to a higher standard. “Good friends” will make you think twice when you’re headed in the “wrong” direction.
When people lose weight and change their lifestyles, relationships change.
I've been helping people get fit and lose weight for 19 years and counting. Let's state the obvious. Someone who has let themselves go, who has considerable weight to lose, has low energy, low self esteem and has been dealing with the social and personal stigma associated with being over weight has often come to expect that people should treat them as "less than worthy" of respect, care, love and kindness. More often than not, when I meet someone who is beginning their fitness journey, they have allowed themselves to slip into “last place” on the list of importance. They have taught others how to treat them. They have taken care of everyone and everything else and practice a great deal of self-loathing.
Whether it’s over eating or under eating the root feeling about yourself is often the same. When people don’t like themselves they don’t expect much from others. They way you feel about yourself effects the dynamic in every relationship you’re in.
Fitness and weight are far deeper than just finding a great exercise program or eating less. I don't speak as an expert or therapist, but I do speak from 19 years of personal experience as a fitness coach and 14 years of marriage - that's 18 years with the same partner (my darling husband Bret) and a great note taker of all strong relationships around me.
Here's the challenge:
When someone begins to feel and look better, they start to think more highly of themselves. For the first time they look in the mirror and think, "I'm looking good. I'm feeling good and I CAN do this." They begin to recognize their own self-worth. They may be the same person they've always been, but suddenly they begin to believe, perhaps for the first time in a long time, that they deserve better.
Before long they may choose to resent those people in their lives (friends, family members, partners, even co-workers) who they have allowed for so many years to treat them "a certain way". Notice that I said, “they may choose to resent”. How you feel about others is a choice. Your mindset, your attitude in this process is critical. Allow your self to start spiraling negative thoughts about someone in your life and before long they become the villain. You can’t remember what you ever saw in them. Your anger builds. You begin to notice everything that drives you crazy. You take everything personally. You can only see and remember the worst.
In the mind of the person experiencing this physical and emotional transformation, the rules begin to change. The other person, even if they are supportive of the healthy changes doesn’t understand why the rules are changing and for that matter where to find the rulebook! This person begins to feel threatened by this unavoidable change or shift in the relationship. Friends may feel that their now "thinner, more fit" friend suddenly thinks less of them. They may feel judged or bad about themselves for not making the same changes and will find ways to sabotage their results or belittle their success.
A partner may suddenly no longer feels like they are the center of that person’s Universe. The newly fit and happy partner begins to get their happiness from within instead of from food or exclusively catering to the needs of others. The resentment and distance continues to build. No one is willing to talk about what’s going on. Everyone is too proud. Each waits for the other to make a step closer and in doing so they walk further and further apart.
Before long you’re doing everything as married individuals and little as a couple. You have your activities, and he or she has theirs; different friends, different schedules, different interest. The bond weakens. The resentment grows. It’s no ones fault, but someone could have done something. Someone should have done something before it was too late.
You often hear, “it takes two”, but I think a more useful comment is, “it takes one.” In every relationship one partner is more emotionally mature than the other. It takes one partner willing to do more than their share. If that has to be you, get over it! Do it. It doesn’t mean one partner is better, it means they are more in tune with what is going in and willing to swallow their pride, swallow their hurt and make it work. It takes one person taking the bull by the horns and steering the ship. It takes one person being the bigger person, and the next time you might be surprised when your partner steps up to the plate. It takes one person to schedule some time with a highly recommended therapist. If your first therapist doesn’t help you, they’re only human. It wasn’t a good fit. Find another!
Put yourself in the shoes of the partner or friend who feels left behind! Imagine going from being number one to number three without warning! No matter how happy you might be for your newly fit partner, you would certainly feel a bit of frustration.
Long term lasting weight loss means adopting a new way of thinking about yourself, a change in your lifestyle. Inevitably you will form new friends, tastes, habits and patterns. As these develop it's not uncommon for the significant other to feel lonely, left behind, angry, resentful, abandoned and even jealous. Will you be the hero? Will you be so wrapped up in your own healing that you lose sight of your partner’s importance?
Keep in mind that this has little to do with fitness and everything to do with "change", a disruption in the balance of power, a shift in the mind of your partner who might now believe they are have lost their importance to you.
So what can be done to avoid people growing apart when one person experiences a change in fitness and lifestyle?
1. Say “Thank you”! Remember that the most important thing you can do to keep your marriage and relationships strong is to make the other person feel important to you. Thank him or her for any small part they have in helping or supporting your journey. Everyone longs to feel needed. Try, “It means a lot to me that you do things like caring for the kids so that I can fit a workout into my day. I couldn’t do this without you!”
2. Communicate. They key to any relationship is communication. If you’re feeling differently about yourself and ready to ask for better treatment from others, then communicate your needs, calmly, with sweetness and understanding. Remember, it’s you that’s changing the rules. Keep in mind that your partner might feel like the rug is being pulled out from under them. It’s your responsibility to communicate your needs. You can’t expect anyone to read your mind. Lose your resentment. What’s the point of getting fit, if you’re all alone!
3. Practice Empathy. Put yourself in the shoes of your partner. How would you feel if the roles were reversed? Imagine how it feels to have change you didn’t ask for thrust upon you.
4. Get on the same path. Partners walking in separate directions cannot expect to stay together for long. Avoid creating a separate life. Invite your partner to join you in your workouts. Should he or she decline, ask again. Explain how much it would mean to you to be on this journey together. Allow your partner to pick the activity.
5. No alone time with opposite sex friends. I’m going to go out on a limb here and I’m sure many of you will disagree. This is a personal rule for Bret and I and it’s based on the practices of our own parents, each of whom are both still married after 40 plus years!
No friends of the opposite sex, unless it’s a friend we both share and time spent together is spent as a couple with this person, no alone time…no matter how perfectly innocent. I don’t flirt. I don’t cavort, or lunch or workout with my friends of the opposite sex. Why would I do anything that might make my husband have to think twice? Neither of us are jealous types; I just think it’s disrespectful. The rule works well for our marriage. If you’re married, the risks waaaaaaay out weigh the benefits. Why go there? You can find plenty of friends of the same sex.
6. Inventory relationships. Take an honest look at your friendships and relationships. Do you have friends or family who really do not want to see you succeed, who wish not to see you happy? What would be the point of giving these people your time? You know right now the name of at least one person who really only pulls you down, never lifts you up and only brings you drama. Lose the friend, lose the drama! If that person is your spouse…get into therapy before things get worse!
7. Do it for the kids. I recently had a conversation with someone going through a divorce. Together they have three kids. She told me she would do anything for her children, including lay down and die for them. Yet, when I pushed her she explained that she just couldn’t bare to spend another month in counseling with her husband. If you say you would do anything for your children, then do everything you can to repair your marriage, including having an open mind to the thought of falling in love again. Your history is the past. Your mindset is everything.
Let me be clear that I think there are plenty of “bad” even dangerous relationships that people stay in way too long. I’m not one of those people who doesn’t believe in divorce. There are certainly people who if they hadn't found their confidence and began to believe in themselves would today be trapped in a toxic marriage. Sometimes divorce is the only option. Sometimes its the only way to protect your children. In fact, if there are no kids involved… I don’t have much of an opinion if someone needs to get out of their relationship. Certainly you should do that before you have kids. Kids won't fix the problem, that's for sure! I just know that people are happier, kinder, nicer, healthier when their relationships are strong, when they feel safe, protected and loved by their partner. That doesn’t happen by accident. It takes work. I also believe that those of us with young children have a far greater responsibility to the world to keep our marriages strong. As I always say the most loving thing you can do for your children is make your spouse the center of your universe. As a country, if we spent as much time and money working on our marriages as we did working on weight loss, the world would be a much better place. That’s all.
Dramatic shifts in the power and balance between people can contribute to marital strife. Certainly changing one’s lifestyle for the better or worse can bring underlying problems to the forefront. Health is a precious gift, which if approached mindfully can strengthen your important relationships.