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When Your Spouse Is A Saboteur

You may be sitting next to a saboteur right now…your friend, your lover, your parent, your spouse.  These people encourage you to stay stuck in bad habits and enmeshed in misery.  Sometimes, they want to see you fail so badly that you end up worse than you are now.  It happens.  Whether these people are sabotaging your desire to lose weight, gain control over your spending, stop drinking or using drugs, they have many elements in common.


Diet Saboteurs

I’m surrounded by these people in my personal life–mainly because addicts hang out with other addicts.  There have been so many times I’ve seen success on a diet or healthy-eating plan and had friends and lovers talk me out of good decisions.  Once, at a restaurant with a diet saboteur, a friend told me I was being “ridiculous” at passing up the Chinese-fried-noodles on the table.  She told me that not indulging now and then was unrealistic—and a bunch of other things.  That was all it took, I’ll never forget it.  I was too fragile and vulnerable in that stage of my new routine to stay on track.  My old habits wanted to believe her.  Indulge I did, right back up to the top of the scale.  I often think back to that moment and wonder where I would be now if I had had the strength to stay on track.

Success Saboteurs

Sometimes, people just want to bring you way, way down.  They will tell you all kinds of things meant to destroy your hard work, your achievements, your happiness.  Misery loves company!  People who are “stuck in the mire” cannot understand where you are coming from—they do not understand the excitement behind a fresh-start or the will-power it takes to be patient.

What’s Really Happening

They are jealous. Really jealous.  You are doing something they have not been able to do in their own lives—make a change. Also, they are afraid. They are afraid you will be different, see them differently, stop hanging out with them.  Really, it has nothing to do with you at all.  It is about your change making them face changes they might need or want to make in their own lives—and they are not ready to even think about it…

Years later, that saboteur actually admitted that she was  jealous of me during that phase of my life.  Obviously, that moment and conversation was as memorable to her as it was to me.  She has since succeeded on making important changes in her life. I am grateful of the lesson it taught me. Saboteurs really exist, and you need to plan for ways to deal with them if you want to have long-term success.  That might mean avoiding those people until you are strong enough to disregard unhelpful comments.

When the Saboteur is your Spouse

Sometimes, sabotage is masked as love.  Your spouse won’t want to see you “get hurt.”  Dr. Phil McGraw says, “This pattern is dangerous because it’s often masked as love and concern and is therefore difficult to fight.”  This fear, again, is often not about you but a reflection of your spouse’s own fear of change.  If you make successful changes in your life where will that leave him/her?  Things are more comfortable and familiar the way they are—your change, however positive, will be a change for them too.

Your spouse might also have a fear of being left.  If you are moving towards high level of success or changing out of unhealthy patters, a spouse might fear that you will no longer see him/her in the same way.  What if you no longer love your spouse?  What if you see your spouse as a “loser” in the light of your new success?

It may sound crazy to you, but these are legitimate fears that can creep up and, not dealt with, can turn your spouse into a saboteur.

Other Types of Saboteurs:

Oblivious:  Your spouse could be completely unaware of what it takes to make the necessary changes and unaware of how his/her own behavior impact you.

Pleaser: Your spouse might want to please you, make you happy, and this might be through reverting you back to your old comfort measures.

Addict: Your spouse might be a fellow addict (food, shopping, gambling, etc.) and unable to control his/her own habit.  Your spouse may see these changes you are making as “your problem.”

Stabilizer:  Your spouse might be ultimately invested in keeping things stable—and stable means status-quo.  In fact, your weight, unhappiness, or unhealthy habits might be the anchor for your relationship.

Fixer:  A saboteur’s identity in your relationship might be based on their ability to “fix” you by being by your side when you are down, offering you suggestions, “cleaning-up” after you, etc.  If you no longer need damage control, what would the fixer have left to fix?

Your Options

Alyce Cornyn-Selby offers several great tips for dealing with sabotage from others.  She suggests your options are: negotiate a change in their behavior, change yourself, change the situation.

Negotiating a change in behavior means that you have to “figure out how you want to be supported and ask for it.”  Next, Cornyn-Selby says you must,

“Make a decision.  “I am a person who doesn’t eat pizza.”  “I am a non-smoker.”  “I handle money wisely.”  These can be affirmations but it’s better if they’re decisions.  Some psychologists refer to this as boundary selection.  You purposely decide what you will and won’t do on this planet, regardless of what anyone (close to you or not) says or does.”

Finally, you last option is to change the situation.  Leaving the saboteur might be your only option, other than giving up on your goal. “If you can’t negotiate a change in them and you’re unwilling or unable to change yourself, then changing the situation is all you have left. “

This is not something you have to tackle alone.  If you need advice or help, seek it from a counselor or therapist.  Honor yourself and your goals.  You are important and there are many books and workbooks available on this subject.   Get the help you need to stay focused!

Additional Reading

I found this NY Times article very interesting.  This article deals specifically with spouses and dieting.  There are things I am willing to sacrifice in order to live a healthy life, and my family is not one of them.  In the options above, I need to deal with my husband’s sabotage by negotiating a change or changing myself.  We have tried several times to negotiate a plan where we both make the healthy dietary changes and support each other–it hasn’t worked yet.

Molly O’Neil’s article talks about a couple who has been undoing each other’s diet success, “She was always behind me a hundred percent, though she didn’t always understand that the diet that worked for her wouldn’t work for me and could be a little overbearing and make me angry and frustrated, which, for me, is a trigger.”  Perhaps this is what is going on between us.

As with the change I made with smoking, I need to start by changing my belief structure.  This begins with a change in my words.  Instead of “I can’t eat that cake,” I need to say and believe, “I don’t eat cake.”  One is a declaration of deprivation and the other is simply a statement of fact.

Businessman and banana skin


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