How a Lifestyle ‘Change, Change, Change’ Can Affect Your Relationships
Our lifestyles tend to be unpredictable and changeable. Within these changes are lessons—about how little in life can be truly planned for, or accurately anticipated; about how good fortunes can sometimes turn bad or turn up. And when there’s a shift in our lifestyle, our relationships are often deeply affected.
A death, a divorce, a marriage, a move, a new baby, job loss or new job, an illness, will upset the balance and impact the course. Take for example a move away from friends and some family to live near your daughter, son or a sibling. How will this affect your bond? It’s much different when the relationship is long distance and over the phone, text, email and zoom. There might be some serious adjustments and the setting of new boundaries when you’re suddenly both in the same city.
You worked remotely during Covid, and for a while after, but now you must go back into the office more often. You’re feeling some hesitation, maybe uncomfortable and insecure around people. You have found you do better in a solitary environment. In the office, you are in a large space with lots of people and conversation that can get loud and distracting at times. How will you now have a good relationship with your colleagues? Do you have to schmooze around the coffee pot or water fountain or go out to lunch periodically? An adjustment to them and to the new reality of working in a group might take some time.
You’re divorced and still have teenage kids. How do they adjust to going back and forth between both parents and how do you deal with them being gone periodically and then coming back home? Are they respectful? Do they still listen? Are they too protective of their now single parent? What if you start dating again? How do your kids react to your new friend? Margaret saw how the relationship between a widower and his youngest daughter changed after her mother died and her dad began dating. He met someone and fell in love. The daughter was completely hostile to the woman and angry at her father. It took a lot of work and patience to reach détente. The couple eventually married, and the daughter was a bridesmaid. Today, they’re a happy and healthy blended family.
You’ve been laid off. Suddenly, you and your partner are living on one salary. There is resentment that one partner is bringing in money and the other is not, albeit she is trying hard to find a new job. There’s tension at home.
Your spouse likes that you are a few pounds overweight. He jokes that it will keep other interested men at bay. But you’re uncomfortable with the extra pounds and may have knee or hip problems carrying around the excess weight. So, you choose to lose it through diet and exercise. Suddenly, men are staring at you, and it makes your spouse uncomfortable. Or you lose weight, and your relationship is better than ever. As one husband wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “My wife has been taking a prescription drug similar to Ozempic for weight loss and has lost nearly 50 pounds so far. The weight loss has given her the motivation to exercise every day and eat a healthier diet. We are having a friendly competition to see which one of us can lose another 15 pounds first. I’m happy because she’s happy.”
Let us stress that we are not trying to imply that every lifestyle change is an unconquerable disaster or even offers major challenges. It might demand a deceleration but also a tempering of attitudes—playing the long game means preserving one’s energy and happiness, but also, and crucially, knowing when to react…and how much. We’re not magicians who can make things better fast by pulling a rabbit out of a hat—whoosh, but we do believe in hope, flexibility, adjusting and persevering.
Here are our tips.
Attitude. Embrace the change if you can. It might be something tragic or sad, but if you don’t adjust, you’ll get stuck. Figure out a way to have someone out of work look for a job and, while doing so, fill in the holes. Or spend some time with the person who has suddenly been left without a long-time partner or spouse.
Perhaps, in either case they can become the main child caregiver. Or they might do repairs on a house, re-landscape a yard, build a fence. There are so many other ways to fill time--do the grocery shopping, cooking and chauffeuring. A helpful partner will be most appreciated. Or take on gig jobs such as an Uber driver, part-time waiter, bartender or dog walker. This might impact a social life. No fun weekends. Make concessions. Maybe Mondays, when you are both off work, might become your new Saturday night. Or you get to see girlfriends on your own. If you feel down periodically, tell yourself it’s most likely only temporary. Pat yourself on the back for changing your attitude and looking up.
Research. If you’re about to move, find out as much as you can about where you’re headed—what matters most to you and start laying the groundwork for where you will grocery shop, do yoga, go to a library. Make a list and plan in terms of what to expect. Knowing more will make the transition easier for all involved. Communicate your fears, wants and needs to those who will be affected by this lifestyle change. Barbara found what mattered most to her when she moved 13 years ago were a good library, an independent bookstore, a great grocery store, Pilates class, art class and book club. Over time, she added more resources and gave up some of the original ones. And all led to new friendships.
Don’t cling to the past. It’s a wasted emotion like guilt. You can’t go back or change what’s been. Jot down perhaps what new adventures you’re looking forward to, how the important people in your life can still fit into that picture and how the future looks with a new set of relationships. Keep thinking forward.
Do a hybrid. Try to patch together the here and now with what was. If you enjoyed playing cards with a certain group of women, contact a community center to see if there are card game groups or other social activities. The players will be different but the task at hand will be familiar and help you ease into your new relationships. Says Jim Chin, Oklahoma, in the Wall Street Journal: “Ten years ago I retired and left Westchester, N.Y., for a home we built in Jenks, Okla., a suburb of Tulsa. I left some family and friends but live very near my daughter and her family. The great gift of a grandson has certainly changed my life. Oklahomans are very friendly; we made new friends and I am active in the community. However, I look forward to annual visits to N.Y. to see family and friends and enjoy great Chinese food and pastrami sandwiches.”
Share your concerns. If you feel stuck and upset, sad or depressed, talk to others in the same situation. Try to make new trusted friends and if seems untenable, don’t hesitate to get professional help. Maybe a support group for those who have lost a spouse or been divorced will do wonders for you. It did for Margaret after her spouse died.
Self-care. Whatever the circumstance, don’t overlook the need to take care of yourself. If you can, exercise, get a pedicure or hair color, maybe take a healthy cooking class at a community center or go back to school and get another degree or certification in winemaking or some other passion, do so. It will make you feel better, and you’ll be much more pleasant to be around. Also stay in regular touch with your current friends, touch base by calls, emails, texts and get-togethers.
Do a transition slowly. If it’s back to work in the office and you find the prospect of seeing strangers or even familiar work colleagues overwhelming, ease into it, if possible. Two days a week at first and then three and then five. If the noise of others bothers you, get noise-cancelling headphones. Start to gradually interact with your colleagues. Maybe join in a company happy hour. At least try it and see if you feel comfortable and can integrate into the group again. Re-charge your old relationships. Hopefully, soon you’ll feel at home again, away from home.