It’s true that losing weight is under your control—you’re the one who decides whether to eat a fruit salad for dessert or a chocolate sundae (or nothing). But working in harmony with your spouse or partner, whether one or both of you want to lose weight, can give you the edge needed to succeed, according to a recent study. 

The study looked at the three most common kinds of behavior that people tend to use to “help” their partners lose weight—encouragement and praise…influence, or pushing the partner to make healthier choices…and coercion—essentially, trying to motivate the partner by making him/her feel guilty. 

And several patterns of interaction were identified as well. Some study participants were “synchronized” with their partners, meaning that they shared the same weight-loss approach and a high level of cooperation…some were “autonomous,” meaning that they had little support from a partner but also little interference in losing weight…and some were “lone battlers,” who had the least support from partners and had to contend with the most partner interference.

Strikingly, study participants who were “synchronized” reported that all three types of partner behavior were helpful. These couples not only shared goals but also had strong enough relationships that even a partner trying to shame the other was seen as beneficial by both. Result: They were able to help each other in more ways and more powerfully than other couples were. 

Meanwhile, the “autonomous” and “lone battler” participants had less success losing weight than synchronized participants did…and lone battlers ­reported the highest levels of relationship strains related to weight loss. 

What’s this mean for weight loss? The most important takeaway might be that there’s nothing inherently better about any of the three ways a partner might act—whether it’s being nice (encouragement/praise), being pushy (influence) or even being a little mean (coercion). Much more important is that the two partners be on the same page. 

What to do: Whether one or both of you is trying to lose weight, synchronize as much as possible. Will it help if your partner bugs you to take a walk after dinner, or is that going to send your blood pressure through the roof? Does your partner like to hear encouragement every morning, or does that make her feel like she’s being judged? Discuss all these kinds of factors, being very honest with each other, and find some ideas that you can both agree to try. Just keep in mind that this is a work in progress. Keep tweaking and adjusting if something isn’t working. The important thing is ­communication.