Do This When Clients Talk About Their Relationships
A Three Step Process to Address This Difficult Subject
Relationships are so important in our lives.
Without a person or group of people with whom to share our experiences, the journey will be less than ideal.
Humans evolved in groups and crave belonging.
You know this, your clients know this.
However, knowing it and experiencing it can be two vastly different realities. Therefore, undoubtedly you have had clients comment, complain or even get emotional about relationships in their lives.
And that can be awkward...but only if you make it awkward.
It’s tempting to nod and just try to change the subject. On occasion that might be appropriate. What are you going to say that is value add when someone complains that their partner never puts the dishes away?
However, when there is a pervasive relationship issue for a client that is impacting their efforts to move forward on their health and wellness journey, it’s important to engage. How and when is the key. Here are three…
You do not need to, nor should you empathize with a situation you have not experienced. Even if you have, it's typically best to not share your experience or even say you know what they are going through.
Everyone’s experience is different.
You can, however, acknowledge that the dirty dishes make them crazy, or that the lack of help with the kids is impacting their sleep. You are not qualified to help them with the family dynamics but you can appreciate that they are sharing as it provides you with additional insight for individualized strategies.
Because telling a mom of an infant to try to get 7-9 hours of consistent sleep is going to land as insensitive and unrealistic. Instead you can indicate that it is clearly difficult right now to get that kind of sleep. It’s a long-term goal.
In the meantime, they shouldn’t beat themselves up about it, and focus on what they do have control over, like water intake, or getting some movement/ steps in each day.
The path to a healthier, happier and leaner lifestyle can be very difficult without the support of others.
Your clients may need to reflect on with whom they spend their time, and how they are spending it. Ask them about their daily practices.
- How do they socialize with friends?
- What are family rituals for hanging out or shared time together?
Your clients may comment on how hard it is to not overindulge when going out to eat with their friends. Or that family time each evening is spent around the tv, often with snacks they make together.
Therefore, getting that walk in each night is tough.
You are not asking them to disown their close family and friends, but now you have great information to suggest small changes.
- When they go out to eat with their friends, can your client take the lead in suggesting a restaurant that supports more healthy options?
- Or perhaps have the friends over to their home where your client can set the menu?
- Can the family play a quick game of hoops or bike ride before sitting down to tv each night?
- Can you offer some healthier snacking options for when they do celebrate their time together with food?
- What about steps per day competition with the family or friends?
The goal here is to empower your clients with strategies and encouragement to adjust the context and quality of some relationships toward leaner, healthier, and happier.
With the adoption of new healthy habits, this is a great opportunity to evaluate friendships that are working, and potentially make new friends with a common mindset.
One of the most difficult relationship conversations we have with clients is when they discuss the people in their lives who are not currently supportive of them as they move toward health and fitness. They may have a long-time “friend” who is constantly giving them a hard time for their fitness efforts. Their remarks include things like, “Live a little” or “One dessert won’t hurt you” or “Come on, have a little fun.” Their friend isn’t necessarily being malicious but may be operating out of fear of being left out, or triggering guilt about their current choices.
It is helpful to encourage your clients to have a healthy conversation with their friend and see if they would like to join on this journey, or at least to let them know they just want support and will not judge. This can be challenging, especially if it is their best friend from college, sibling, or significant other, which is the most difficult.
The key is encouraging your clients to be open and honest and share the value of the friendship. Remind them to explain how they want to maintain and grow that relationship, which includes being supportive of healthy habits.
Sometimes it’s not about the old friends, but about connecting with new ones. Your clients may have some new interests, or want to reignite old ones. So let’s say they want to get back to running, start yoga, learn to meditate, or take a cooking class. You are not encouraging them to dump all their current friends and loved ones, but you can support them to connect to activities, clubs and other resources you have amassed just for this purpose.
In summary, talking about your clients’ relationships can seem like an uncomfortable topic. It’s tempting to try to avoid these topics. However, avoiding this critical area of their lives can really create a huge barrier to long term success.
You will want to validate that they are feeling challenged, ask enough questions to help strategize ways to modify their current relationships and provide resources for additional tribes they can be a part of to meet their goals.
The key is having relationships that push your clients toward their fitness goals rather than turning you away. Nurturing the right relationships or creating new ones on your fitness journey not only makes it easier but also more enjoyable.
And of course, as with all areas of coaching, know when to refer out. You are not a trained counselor, nor should you be, but you can help your clients realize that spending a significant amount of time in positive and supportive relationships is critical to their long-term success.