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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.

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.

Take the Right Approach

When you decide to confront your loved one about making changes, your approach is important. "You've got to be careful not to create an adversarial relationship," Burton tells WebMD.

"Play the role of encourager as opposed to nagger," Bryant says. "Try to recognize any efforts towards change and provide a positive comment on them." If the urge to nag is strong, exert that energy instead into modeling the behavior you hope your loved one will mimic, Bryant offers.

Above all? Recognize that, in the end, the decision to change rests with the individual. "There are people who smoke, who understand the risks, and who just can't change," Burton tells WebMD.

"Ultimately, you cannot control your family member," Garbutt says.


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