Question: What’s the difference between a boyfriend and a husband?
Answer: About 30 lbs.
The subtitle of this article comes from a discussion thread on the “Health Community Section” of the Amazon forum. Evidently, a lot of people are interested in manipulating their loved ones!
The posts are varied with a number of “solutions” being presented. Generally, they range somewhere between “hint, encourage, coach” (read “nag”) on one end of the spectrum and “accept them just as they are and they will change” on the other. The problem with either of these extremes and all points in between is they don’t work! Of course, the real answer to “How do I get my wife to lose weight?” is “You can’t.”
The “Nag” Approach to Changing Someone
The “Nag” approach is a popular one. I can’t think of one instance in my life, or the life of anyone I know, where someone’s nagging has gotten the desired results. In fact, I can think of countless situations where nagging got the opposite of what was desired! The reason nagging doesn’t work is simple. Imagine yourself driving down the highway and a car comes up behind you, wanting you to go faster. They pull right up on your rear bumper and start honking their horn. I don’t know about you, but if someone does that to me, my instinct is to slam on my breaks and try to scare the hell out of them. So much for the nag approach.
The “Love Them Just the Way They Are” Approach to Changing Someone
I call this the “Oprah” approach. Why should someone change if he or she sees no good reason for changing? Acceptance and empathy are good for helping people to feel close, but it is woefully inadequate at motivating change. This is why many people let themselves go once they find someone and feel secure in the relationship “just as they are.”
A Better Question
Both “answers” are actually barriers to the change that is desired. The real answer to the question of “How can I change someone?” begins with “Get a better question.” The answer to the dilemma presented in the health forum is not found on either end of the spectrum or in any combination of the answers. The answer is to get off the spectrum completely. I propose a better question would be, “How can I change my functioning to stop being a barrier to the change I’d like to see?” This question shifts the focus from the other person onto one’s own functioning and the resulting change in the relationship.
It is easy to maintain a close relationship with someone when we give up ourselves and what is important to us so that “anything goes.” It is easy to hold on to ourselves if we get out of the relationship. What is hard (and I think at the heart of true intimacy) is staying ourselves AND staying in relationship. Most people believe that you have to choose one or the other when needs conflict. There is, however, another option.
Defecting in Place – Staying Yourself AND Staying Around
When you focus on yourself and are honest about what you want and need from your relationships, rather than focusing on trying to change the other person, you are taking a position that Ed Friedman calls, “defecting in place.” It involves the paradox of stating needs and what you are not happy about WITHOUT leaving the relationship if you don’t get what you want. It involves the honest disclosure of who you are, what you want, and what you are going to do to take care of yourself while giving the other person the choice of whether they want to change or not. It is taking the position of being responsible for your own happiness and your own functioning. It is accepting responsibility for your own “ok-ness” in your life.
It is important to emphasize that “defecting in place” is NOT a technique to get what you want or to change others. This would be an anxious approach, like all the others, and is dependent on the other person’s functioning. If used in this way, anything you say or do “will be used against you.” The outcome of this kind of manipulation is the same as the others. Most likely, it will backfire.
When someone takes responsibility for his or her own happiness own functioning, and announces what her or she is going to do to be happy independent of changes in others, a strange thing happens to people around them. A strange “field of maturity” forms around a well-defined person who is not afraid to be in relationship with others. People are more likely to take responsibility for themselves and are more likely to take care of themselves. Maturity breeds maturity.
Will this way of taking responsibility for yourself cause your spouse lose weight? Probably not. But it definitely removes some of the barriers put in place by the “strategies” aimed at changing your spouse. But, that’s not the point. The point is if you focus on your own functioning and what you need to be happy in the presence of your spouse, you may not be pleased about your spouse’s weight, but your peace of mind and your own happiness in your life won’t depend on it.
Peace and courage,