When helping your partner may actually be hurting them

By Michelle, a love is respect Advocate

In healthy relationships, partners support one another to accomplish their goals, pursue their dreams and realize their full potential as individuals within the relationship. But what happens when you don’t approve of your partner’s choices?

Maybe they aren’t working as hard on accomplishing their goals as you know they could be, or maybe you don’t agree with their priorities in the first place. Maybe you even disagree so much with their behavior, you feel like you have to intervene to set them back on the right path.

At love is respect, we sometimes hear from people trying to “help” their partners make “smarter” choices “for their own good.” But when it comes to goals affecting a partner’s body, sometimes even well-intentioned behaviors can be unhealthy:

  • Monitoring or controlling a partner’s eating habits, especially if they are overweight or have an eating disorder
  • Forcing a partner to exercise, whether to build muscle or lose weight
  • Trying to incentivize a partner to lose weight by purposefully buying things too small for them to wear
  • Prohibiting a partner from consuming something they want to, including certain foods, alcohol, cigarettes or drugs
  • Policing your partner to prove they’ve been sticking to a regimen (e.g. forced weigh-ins, drug tests, etc.)
  • Intimidating a partner into pursuing a diet, therapy or treatment they aren’t comfortable with
  • Secretly dosing a partner’s food with medication, supplements or diet pills
  • Using shame, guilt, criticism, threats or violence as a motivation tool

While it’s totally understandable to want to help your partner be healthy and successful, forcing or pressuring someone to do something they don’t want to do can be considered abusive. Everyone is entitled to have control over their own bodies, and they’re also entitled to look for a partner whose health priorities match up with their own. Entering into or staying in a relationship with someone you hope to “fix” is not only unhealthy but probably won’t be successful in the long run either.

You are not your partner’s parent, coach, doctor or therapist, and it would be unhealthy for your relationship to take on that sort of dynamic. Making someone adopt a certain diet, dosing them with medication they don’t know they’re taking (even if it’s prescribed to them), and forcing an addict to stop using certain drugs cold turkey can actually be really dangerous! In order to create real and lasting change, a person must be committed to working toward those new behaviors on their own.

If you’re looking for healthy ways to support your partner, open, honest communication is key. You might ask your partner questions like, “What are your goals for mental and physical health? What does success in those goals look like to you? How can I support you as you work toward that vision?” You may need to be prepared for the possibility that your partner’s goals don’t align with yours, or that they don’t want any assistance from you. If that is the case, it’s important to respect their decision, even if you disagree with it. If their answer is something you really cannot support, the two of you may not be the best fit for a relationship right now.

It’s also important to remember that trust is an integral part of healthy relationships. Monitoring your partner’s behavior or making them “prove” that they have been sticking to a regimen is not trusting, it is controlling. If you can’t trust your partner to make healthy choices without you having to check up on them, it might be time to consider whether this is a relationship you should stay in. If your partner asks you to monitor their behavior as a way to support them in recovery, that’s totally okay! It’s all about what kinds of support your partner is wanting, and they should never HAVE to report to you if they don’t want to.

Respecting your partner’s autonomy to make their own choices, even if you disagree with them, goes for other areas of the relationship too. It’s not okay to pressure your partner to leave a job they love for a “better” one, or force them to give you their bank information so you can make sure they’re spending on the “right” things. Your partner always deserves to have control over their own life.

Still not sure if you’re supporting your partner in healthy ways? Our peer advocates are available 24/7/365 via phone, chat and text.

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