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Health & Balance

Helping Loved Ones Make Tough Health Changes

Whether your loved one refuses to confront a chronic disease or an addiction, know how you can help and where your limits lie.
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Get Informed continued...

The first thing you should do? "Get informed," urges Malinda Peeples, MS, RN, CDE. "If your spouse is diagnosed with a chronic disease, you're both going to be living with it," says Peeples, president of the American Association of American Diabetes Educators. Knowing what, when, and how changes need to happen will come in handy in the event that your loved one chooses to adopt them.

If your loved one suffers from an addiction, learning about the impact your relationship has had on its progression -- possibly with the assistance of a certified counselor -- can be just as enlightening as understanding the addiction itself. "It can be growth-promoting for a spouse or significant other to learn about aspects of the relationship that potentially promoted the addiction," says James Garbutt, MD, a psychology professor at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. There's no doubt that such revelations can be painful for both parties. But by exposing the vulnerable aspects of a relationship, you also make them available for repair.

Support Health Changes

So should you attempt to reach out to your loved one who appears adamantly opposed to being touched? The answer hinges on an honest assessment of your relationship with the person in need. "I always encourage [support from a significant other] when there's a close and functional relationship," Burton tells WebMD.

Support often begins with subtle, indirect measures.

"Allow your loved one to move through the stages of acceptance," Peeples suggests. If you push before someone's ready, you'll meet with resistance rather than success.

Garbutt says there are signs when an addict is not ready to change. "The person who's hiding the behavior and denies or minimizes it is less ready for change," he says. So, too, is the person who makes attempts to control, rather than relinquish, the addictive behavior, notes Garbutt. He offers the example of the alcoholic who switches from hard liquor to beer, or reduces alcohol consumption from four nights to two. While such overtures are intended to show "control" over alcohol, in reality, they're sure-fire signs that the alcohol continues to exert control over the alcoholic.

While you can't force loved ones to change, you can change their environment. For instance, if you live with someone who is diabetic, this can be as simple as eliminating "off-limits" foods from the kitchen cabinets and frequenting restaurants that serve only healthy choices, suggests Peeples.

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