A woman in distress recently sent us a DM on our 80/80 Instagram account. She told us that her husband is withdrawing. He’s less interested in spending time together. He’s contributing less. And their marriage is suffering.
That’s where things get interesting. He’s withdrawing because she has made a commitment to self improvement. She’s reading new books, listening to new podcasts, and building new habits to improve her life.
You would think her partner would welcome all of this positive change with open arms. But that’s not always the case. In fact, we've experienced this in our own marriage many times. It’s a strange phenomenon where one partner's new exercise routine, meditation practice, yoga commitment, or diet leads the other to feel a mixture of resentment, jealousy, and judgment.
There’s a deep reason for this: change creates disruption and it often shows up in marriage. This is true of changes for the worse, Netflix binging, eating too much fast food, or feeling overwhelmed and burned out. But it’s also true of positive changes.
So how can you improve yourself without destroying your connection with your partner? Here are three tools.
When Nate first started a daily meditation practice, he told Kaley about all the amazing benefits he was experiencing: his clearer mind, his sharper focus at work, and his experience of growing resilience.
All this talk left Kaley feeling annoyed and irritated. On the one hand, she felt like Nate was exaggerating the profundity of his new found practice. On the other, part of her felt jealous. “If this is as good as he says it is," she thought, “maybe I’m missing out."
The result? We experienced the very same thing reported by the woman who messaged us on Instagram. This positive change created a new source of conflict for us.
We learned that, when it comes to personal transformation, it’s better to show than tell. This is true for tiny things. For instance, you get more credit for just unloading the dishwasher than talking about how you've committed to be more helpful around the house. If the change you are experiencing is real, let it show in the way you live your life. Try not to announce it to your partner.
Here’s another trap of self improvement. You go on a weekend retreat or return home from a mind-blowing workshop and you feel like you've suddenly become a new person. You have new tools and insights. You feel the catharsis of letting go of years of emotional tension.
So you begin plotting out ways to change everything in your life to match your new and improved self. The problem is that your partner wasn't along for the ride. From their perspective, you're going overboard with all this change. So, not surprisingly, they withdraw and you feel misunderstood.
If you catch yourself falling into this trap, here’s an alternative. Play the long game. If your inner transformation and growth is real, it should evolve and sustain itself over years, not days. Many facilitators at these life-changing retreats, for instance, tell people to make no irreversible changes for 60 days. No new babies, houses or cars until the insights have settled.
The world of self improvement is a lot like the world of music. Just as there’s no single best song or album for everyone, there’s no single practice, tool, or approach to self improvement that’s perfect for everyone.
Some people love meditation. Some love yoga. Some love systems like the Enneagram. Some love methods of inquiry like The Work. Some love any number of other profound tools for self improvement.
The moment we think to ourselves, "If only my partner were interested in this too, they would be better," we create a subtle energy that leads our partner to start running as fast as they can in the opposite direction. Even if you never say this out loud, your partner can feel your desire to convert them. And that has the effect of both leading them away from ever taking up your cherished new practice and leading them away from connection with you.
How do you get out of this trap? Let go of any idea that your partner shouldfollow your same path of self improvement. Be open to them taking a totally different path to inner peace.
Sure, yoga might bring you inner bliss. But, for your partner, maybe it’s fishing on a Saturday morning or playing a round of golf on a warm spring day. There are many paths up the mountain. Once you let go of seeing your own path as the best, your partner will have the space to find their own and to find their way back into connection with you.