Do It For Yourself

A reader emails that her husband harps on her to moderate her drinking, smoking, eating, etc. She knows he loves her, but she worries that his concern for her health isn’t enough to motivate her to restrain herself. She tries to cut back, but soon the old habits return. She wonders if maybe she doesn’t love him enough to stop doing these things ‘for his sake.’

The first rule for self-change is that you must do it for yourself. You cut back or stop an activity because it offends YOU. Any other motive will lead to failure.

Try this simple test: Imagine that you’re no longer with your husband. The activities that he objected to have finally become so annoying to you that you quit on your own, just because you want to. If you can honestly tell yourself that you can (and would) stop even if he were not in your life, then you know you’re ready to do it on your own.

Changing your ways just to make your husband happy won’t work. Yes, at first you’ll enjoy his approval, but once that initial gratification wears off, you’ll start to quietly resent him. You might not admit it to yourself, but it will be there and will come out in sarcastic comments, an argument, or in the form of you starting up again behind his back. The worst thing you can do for your relationship is to change your behaviors ‘for his sake.’

I know we’re all taught to not be ‘selfish.’ But I know of no other way to stop an addiction or any behavioral problem other than through the instinctive motivators of self-interest and self-preservation. Every time I see somebody try to do something solely for the sake of another, it backfires. The behavior isn’t authentic — and it isn’t honest. Let’s say you stop smoking just because a significant other is on your back about it. Think about all the factors you’ve overlooked, like the damage to your body, the smell, the expense, etc. If you honestly believe that the risk and inconvenience is worth the pleasure, then it’s your call. It is, after all, your life. But don’t expect to enjoy your husband’s approval while ignoring your own needs and desires (rational or otherwise). It’s a contradiction, and contradictions always fail.

Sometimes it’s good to ask yourself, ‘Does this habit make sense or not? What does it do to my life?’ I would rather see you approach your partner and make a case as to why you think what you’re doing isn’t such a problem. And, by ‘make a case,’ I don’t mean being defensive, saying things like, ‘Get over it. Live with it.’ What I mean is presenting a logical case as to why it makes sense to keep doing what you’re doing. At least now you’re being open about it. And be open to your husband’s questions or challenges. You claim you love him and that he loves you. Along with that should come respect. The odds of your relationship surviving open communication are much greater than if you perpetuate a lie ‘for his sake.’

I knew a man years ago who took great pleasure in eating and was somewhat overweight. He took moderate doses of medication for his blood pressure and cholesterol. His wife was constantly on his case about eating. Finally, out of frustration, he simply told her, calmly and logically, ‘I like eating. I’ll curb it here and there, but I’m not going to give it up. It’s one of the things that make me happy, and I’m not going to be miserable. If it takes a few years off my life, then so be it. I want to do it.’ I had to admire him: Agree or disagree, it’s his choice. And far more honest than if he resentfully lived a lie just to please her.

We come into this world on our own and we leave it on our own. It’s up to us, and us alone, to confront the choices before us and make the decisions that seem to be the best. Don’t let anyone take this away from you. Let loved ones challenge you — even welcome it — and carefully assess what they’re saying. Appreciate that they cared enough to confront you. But don’t change just because they want you to. No matter what you decide, you can only be true to them by remaining true to yourself.