You can pursue your own goal—and shared happiness.

Celebrity fitness and nutrition coach Alex Carneiro and Siera Capesius, who has her own successful fitness coaching business, are a couple with shared interests. And they’re the first to say that having a health or wellness goal when you’re in a relationship can be risky business.

When Capesius decided to change careers and then to enter her first fitness competition, Carneiro already had broken into the ranks of the world’s top 10 male fitness competitors. Looking back, Carneiro says that despite their shared interests, he was deep into preparation for his own competition and so accustomed to the challenges that he wasn’t as empathetic to her struggles as he could have been, until she finally asked him to help her figure out if there were changes she could make. (He discovered she wasn’t eating enough healthy fats.)

Whether you’re all fired up to train for your first 10K or it’s the first day of your clean-eating journey, your spouse or significant other is the wild card. Maybe he’s already signed up to do the race with you. Or maybe she’s shopping according to your grocery list but reserves the right to indulge on a slice of pizza and a glass of wine when she feels like it. Perhaps you’ve already learned that Taco Tuesday is here to stay for the kids and you’re on your own for dinner after your sweat session.

From their work with their clients and their experiences in their own relationship, Carneiro and Capesius have discovered the unexpected challenges and the secrets to success when pursuing their personal goal as part of a couple (or a family). The duo says regardless of whether a goal is shared, there are “three C’s” for success: communication, compromise and consistency. All three C’s are helpful in any relationship, but one of these elements becomes especially important in each of three different sets of circumstances.

When you have similar goals: communication

“Support does not mean that the person with the goal gets to be dependent on the partner,” Carneiro explains. “Your partner can provide you with the inspiration or motivation, but you have to do the work. Your partner can’t do the work for you.”

The couple is training for an obstacle race and actively discuss and plan their grocery shopping, training and social activities. “We’re going to a friend’s birthday party at a restaurant, and while we don’t have total control over the menu, we can look at it ahead of time and make choices,” Capesius says.

But Carneiro points out that training for the same event doesn’t mean that the two share identical goals or that they do everything together. “It’s nice to have goals that are similar, but it’s important to have goals for yourself,” he says. The couple doesn’t necessarily progress at the same rate or have the same experiences, making communication something that can’t be taken for granted and making compromise a necessity.

For example, Capesius sprained her ankle (and later, Carneiro injured his ankle, as well), but they nevertheless try to remain active together. “Even when we don’t go to the gym together, we’re always making sure we walk the dogs and we’re doing outdoors activities together,” she says.

When you have a supportive partner: compromise

Capesius observes communication, compromise and consistency at work in one of her client’s relationships. “He’s getting ready for an event, but his wife is not participating,” Capesius says. “She is very supportive, though. So they’ll plan meals together, and they even pack each other’s lunch. And sometimes they go out for a cheat meal.”

Carneiro adds, “Having one person who is supportive of your goal but not involved in that goal simply means that that person understands your lifestyle and respects your choices—and does not want to cross boundaries to sabotage them or get in their way.” Compromise is key. Discussing what’s on the shopping list and making decisions together about how to handle the differences can result in mutual agreement about whether cookies are allowed in the house—and if they are allowed, how to help the partner resist temptation and stick with his or her goal.

Consistency is crucial to pursuit of a goal, and for couples, that can require compromise on other consistent routines. Child care, mealtimes and other scheduled responsibilities require communication and especially compromise if changes have to be made so that someone can train on a regular basis.

When your partner doesn’t support you: consistency

When your partner is not supportive of your goals, it’s entirely up to you to be consistent in your diet and routine. Carneiro also views consistency as a way to demonstrate to a partner that you’re serious about your pursuit, which just might inspire your partner to become supportive or even join you.

Initially, the person with the goal might find he or she is doing more of the compromising, as well.  Capesius describes a client whose wife insists on continuing to prepare the same high-carb family meals that he’s trying to avoid. Her client finds himself coming home from a long day or a strenuous workout and eating what his wife has prepared because he’s too tired to cook for himself. So Capesius is trying to encourage him to stock up on pre-made meals or to eat smaller amounts of what his wife prepares, and of course, this requires communication with his wife, in the interest of maintaining the health of their relationship.

Carneiro and Capesius recommend finding a buddy or a group for the support that you might not be getting from your partner, whether that’s encouragement or help with consistency—and making sure you get your training sessions in.

A way of life

When your goal is a long-term change in lifestyle, Carneiro says there can be a lot of risks and obstacles. “But they are obstacles and not roadblocks that will completely stop you from achieving your goals,” he says.

For the couple, Capesius’s decision to participate in the same fitness competition Carneiro had entered led to a conversation which, given their shared goal, might have seemed unnecessary. In fact, it was vital. “When I got motivated by Alex and wanted to do the same [fitness competition] he was doing, I knew my lifestyle was going to change,” Capesius says. “But as the weeks went by, I realized I was going to have to put more time into my goal, and that meant less time with Alex.”

That recognition was the catalyst for the couple to establish an important foundation of communication. It’s the basis for a healthy partnership in other aspects of their relationship as Carneiro and Capesius pursue their respective careers.

Photo credit: Windstar
Hair and makeup: Jessica Chenowyth