In a new study researchers have added insight into when support from a partner is helpful and when it can actually undermine achieving goals. The implications are important not only for managing a successful effort to achieve health related goals such as getting more exercise or eating healthier meals, but unhelpful support could also lead to relationship conflict, dissatisfaction and frustration.
It has been known for some time that not all social support is beneficial or welcome. We tend to think that getting support from a partner would help us achieve our goals and make us feel cared for. Yet support that is not skillfully provided can make things worse. Often times, the best type of support you can provide your partner is when he or she does not even realize it; otherwise known as "invisible support."
In the current study, volunteers were couples who were dieting and were asked to describe: "How much my weight loss was an important goal for my partner." Ironically the more a dieter perceived that their partner was invested in their weight loss, the less likely he or she lost weight and in fact actually gained weight!
Further studies found that when a person was uncertain about achieving a goal, they were more likely to request that their partner leave them alone. In contrast, feeling confident about achieving a goal and getting support from a partner led to increased effort and greater goal success.
You can see how these findings might play out in your own relationships especially when you are trying to help your partner and it only makes things worse. I am especially aware of this when trying to help my teenage daughter Ruby achieve goals that she may feel uncertain about. Often times, I believe she sees my support as my own goals for her and interprets my advice as controlling and unhelpful.
It's no wonder she often replies with "Just leave me alone Dad." It may be especially important to recognize when our partner feels less confident about achieving a particular goal so that we provide them the space to figure it out and not get in the way. Not only do we risk undermining our partner's effort when they are uncertain by providing overt support, we also are likely to feel hurt and misunderstood when our support is unwanted.