Helping men who feel something missing in their lives

The Disquiet in Men

Helping men who feel something missing in their lives

Is your self improvement stressing your family?

Graphic_black_and_white.gifThe February issue of “Time For Change”

“Time for Change” focuses on different issues about the Disquiet. It’s like a coaching conversation in which I will work on a particular aspect and provide steps you can take to work with your own Disquiet. You can ask questions or share you experiences here in the comments below.

Please note that these monthly newsletter editions are not available on the Feed. So if you want to receive your own issue when it’s published, you can subscribe by filling out the form box on any sidebar on this site or by clicking here. You will also get a copy of the report from my ongoing study based on interviews with men around the world who discuss their Disquiet.

This month’s article:

Is your self improvement stressing your family?


I was driving home after my weekly racquetball game. Sweaty and feeling that great afterglow of a full body workout, I was thinking about how much better I was doing managing stress and working towards the important goals in my life. The different aspects of my life were taking on new meaning and a new direction. I had been working hard on myself for the past year in a personal leadership development program and the benefits were starting to show. I walked into the house and immediately knew something was wrong. The air was frosty.

My wife didn’t look up from the TV and she didn’t say a word. “Uh oh”. What followed was a slow and steady escalation from awkward and smothering silence to verbal snipes and jabs to a full blown argument. The air was heavy from both the volleys of hurtful words and now the silence as we separated into different parts of the house. Another fight about how much time I was spending away from her. But it was one night a week! And it was for all of us. I mean, being less stressed would be great for everyone right? What was I supposed to do?

That was a long time ago in my first marriage. But I can remember the pain of those exchanges as if they still live in my body. I was working very hard to be a better husband, father and person, but all that work seemed to lead to more fights and tension. I eventually gave up the racquetball nights to reduce the confrontations. Later on, I resented that.

Has something like that ever happened to you? Have you ever noticed that when you make important changes in your life, it seems like there is even more stress than before?

That’s because there is! When you change your habits – regular ways of seeing and doing things, you change the rhythm in the relationships. It sends a tremor through the very fabric of families. Even when it’s about self improvement, a ripple of fear, resentment and stress is created.

What is happening?

Why would your loved ones be angry with your efforts to improve yourself?

Because you are changing. And they aren’t sure you will still love them, will be there for them or even stay in their lives. It is like a dance. You and your partner know each other. She/he knows how you move, what your habits are, and how predictable you will be. Change that and the dance is thrown off. And your partner will work to get that dance back to the way it was.

Flash back to high school chemistry. Do you remember homeostasis: that fundamental force in biology that all living things want to keep things the same? That is what is at play here. And it’s mostly at a subconscious level. My wife wasn’t unhappy with my efforts to improve myself. She wasn’t even upset I was playing racquetball. She was scared I was changing, moving away from her and the family. And I didn’t understand what was really happening and got defensive and resentful. Remember this whenever you take on any significant change effort in your life, whether it’s changing your eating habits, taking up physical exercise, developing yourself spiritually, or engaging your Disquiet. Just remember: the bigger the change you’re making, the bigger the disruption you’ll create in the “dance” with those around you.

It is important to remember that your significant-other does not want to sabotage your development. They are simply experiencing natural and predictable reactions to change.

So what can you do?

Four things:

1. Help them understand what is happening to you, and why
you’re engaging in these changes.

2. Check in with them. Ask what the impact of the changes on
them has been like. Ask how you can help with it. Do not assume you know what they are experiencing. Ask and listen. Then ask what they might need from you.

3. Ask for their help and offer ideas how. You cannot make substantive change alone. You need their help. Examples: Time when you need to be alone, feedback on how you are doing, and sharing what you are learning so they can be a bit forgiving while you are wobbly and new at it.

4. Share why the change effort is important for you and for them. Your love and commitment for them is a big motivator and sustainer while you are on this journey. You might assume they know this, but you need to reiterate this even if it feels awkward.

Most of us don’t understand the nature of change and its impact, so we don’t know to attend to it. We assume if we are doing something that is good for all concerned, everyone would automatically support it. And when we are blindsided by our partner’s “negative” reactions, we can feel unsupported and resentful toward her or him.

So be sure to attend to your loved ones when undergoing any significant change. This applies to a career change, a move, anything that will disrupt the established rhythms and patterns of our relationships.

Sometimes when we are working so hard to improve ourselves, we get tunnel vision and forget those closest to us. Don’t!

Clients who are in my coaching programs automatically get help in reducing this stress with their loved ones. This is done through the Family Support Services Program, a carefully designed series of booklets that give ideas and actions steps to help the client’s family get and give support while the client is being coached.

This feature is generating a lot of excitement and I am exploring additional ways to make it available. Stay tuned.

How has this helped you?

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2 Responses to “Is your self improvement stressing your family?”

  1. Deb Says:

    Excellent post, especially your four suggestions. I have found these very helpful in easing my friends, family and husband through my big changes… an ongoing process, ultimately involving a lot of talking at the level of what things mean to us. For example, when I wanted to leave a few hour later for a family trip so I could get some work done, my husband expressed some resentment that I had not chosen to skip my fitness class to create more work time, and was able to say, “I feel like your priorities are fitness, then us”… and I was able to speak to how fitness was what kept me sane, restored, healthy, and there for him and our kids for decades to come. I also learned to not be a zealot in encouraging others to also change my way, at my pace (my well-intentioned gift of personal training sessions for my husband went over like a lead balloon). On the other hand, being willing to invite others to join me or to be inspired by me rather than staying in their sourness of “it must be nice” has also been cool … to acknowledge how it is indeed “nice” to be more true to yourself, and to welcome them to do so too.

  2. Deb Says:

    p.s. one more little thing re our changes impacting others…
    my almost 15 year old daughter deigns to cuddle with me about once a month, and always kvetches about how hard and bony I am, missing the soft pillowy mom of before, suggesting I get a fat suit, reminding me in a funny way that every change has some downsides, including for our circle.

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