When we are in a healthy relationship, we want to see our partner thrive. Just as we want to fulfill our potential, we often wish the same sense of growth for our partners as well.
The tricky thing about this is that we cannot make someone seek development—they have to want it for themselves. We can only control our behavior.
That being said, we can still help our partners cultivate a sense of aspiration for themselves.
This framework in a relationship, where both of you are striving for self-improvement, can create a dynamic where you cheer each other on and help one another work towards your best selves.
So how can this be achieved?
You model your own personal growth
If you want your partner to pursue their own goals, you have to walk the walk and not just talk the talk. Demonstrate for your partner what it looks like to have plans for your life. Whether that includes setting a routine to go to the gym, cooking healthy meals, or engaging in a mindfulness practice, show that you are actively working towards your own self-improvement.
This will include boundary setting at times as you live in accordance with these goals. For example, your partner may want to hang out on the couch, sleep in, and stay at home and encourage you to do the same. While this is appropriate at times (hello introverted friends!), staying in can also become an excuse to not strive for more.
If your partner begs you to “sit and hang out” several nights a week, you may be missing your own opportunities for growth where you could have instead gone to a book club or heard an interesting lecture.
However, when your partner sees you signing up and showing up for your life goals, they are likely to be inspired by your pursuits.
And if your partner is having difficulty feeling motivated after watching you strive for more, invite your partner alongside you so that they can begin to build new habits.
You encourage them rather than guilt them
As humans, we tend to perform better and feel happier when we earn positive encouragement rather than punishment.
If your partner feels that you are angry or resentful when they are not completing their goals, it can create an unhealthy dynamic. Even if they do begin challenging themselves to personally grow, you never want them to be doing it more to avoid your wrath than for their own personal development.
Instead, seek to praise your partner for the small strides they are making. Perhaps you notice them reading a self-help book or taking a walk during their lunch break. These steps deserve some credit and acknowledging your partner for their gains will likely motivate them to go for more.
Shaming someone into improving their performance is never a good strategy and rarely cultivates a safe and loving partnership.
You’re there for them when they fall
The journey towards personal growth is never a smooth one. Supporting your partner when the path is bumpy is necessary. This should be mutual as well—your partner should have your back when your self-care may be faltering at times.
And even though sometimes we fall off the bandwagon, whether that includes stopping our yoga practice, not attending spiritual services if that’s important to you, or forgetting to catch up with friends, our partner can gently encourage us to lean back in.
We can always re-engage and keeping this sense of hope in the relationship is crucial. Be kind to one another as you remember you are not perfect, but rather striving for personal growth that is a continual journey.
You know yours and their values
It can be difficult to know what your partner is striving for if you don’t know their values. Ask your partner what matters to them for their life fulfillment. Is it spending time with family and friends? Is it pursuing their ambitions at work?
Having clear conversations about what your partner finds meaningful will be essential as you support them. Otherwise, you may very well be encouraging your partner to pursue goals that align with your values, rather than theirs. Once you know their values, the next step will be respecting any differences in values.
For example, your partner may strive for adventure, creativity, and freedom while you may value self-control, stability, and order. While these are different values, it’s important how to live in harmony with your partner’s values and learn to respect each other’s interests. This allows you to learn and grow from each other as you admire one another’s efforts.
The journey to self-growth is never streamlined. We are all works in progress. Having empathy and compassion for your partner as they seek their personal best will serve you and your relationship.
And just as you support your spouse, you deserve that same respect and encouragement as you strive towards your own fulfillment. Healthy couples cheer each other on with their victories and support one another during the downfalls.
Here’s to the journey together.