#62: A Better Relationship Starts With Yourself With Rachael Cunningham

A Better Relationship Starts With Yourself With Rachael Cunningham

How do romantic relationships affect body image, and vice versa? Well, when you show up as your bold, confident self you’ll quickly realize that it improves all areas of your life. I am joined by Rachael Cunningham to chat about partnerships, health autonomy, and learning to love yourself first. To help keep your body on track (without a scale!) download my free system at ShesGotPower.com/HowIFeel.

In this episode you’ll hear about:

  • How to reconcile the desire to change your body through the lens of culture vs. health
  • Why you need to take care of yourself first (even in relationships)
  • How to show up as you are and love your partner during their health journey
  • The two things you need to build confidence

Subscribe to the She’s Got Power podcast on Apple or Spotify. Love what you hear? Please share with your friends and leave a review so more women can finally overcome the health issues associated with chronic stress and burnout.

Reframing body insecurity

Michelle (02:58):

How we feel about ourselves is one thing. But what about when you’re worried about how somebody else feels about your body or maybe you don’t like something about theirs? Ugh. It gets tricky. Right? I invited my friend, Rachel Cunningham am on the show. Rachel is a life and relationship coach with a background in health. She’s also the host of the joyful love podcast and she’s got some great insights. We talked about confidence, health, autonomy, and loving ourselves first. I think you’re gonna love it. Here we go. Rachel, thank you so much for being on the show today.

Rachael (03:47):

You’re welcome. Thank you for having me. This

Michelle (03:50):

Is going to be a juicy episode. I already can feel it. I love what you bring to the table because you started off as a health coach. Is that right? But now you’re doing something quite a bit different.

Rachael (04:02):

Yes. I started off as a health coach and then, um, I noticed that a lot of my clients wanted to talk about the relationships and how their relationships were holding them back. And I realized, I love talking about relationships <laugh> so that’s the direction I went in. And so I went and I got my life coach certification as well as my health coach certification and just dove right in. And so now I coach marriages. 

Michelle (04:26):

Love it. Yeah. And from the time that I met you until now, um, I got divorced, right? So everything you’ve been doing is so interesting to me. And I’ve just been, you know, keeping track of you through, uh, through the years today, we wanna talk about body image and before we kinda get into how that affects relationships, just as, as a woman, as a woman who has just like the rest of us grown up in a culture, that’s saying, you know, you should be thinner and you need longer eyelashes. And you know, all of those crazy stuff that we’ve had to deal with. Um, I’m finding it really interesting now as the body positivity, self-acceptance this movement has really taken hold. You know, we have Gap ads with plus size models. We have Victoria’s Secret ads with plus size models. Yeah. It’s real things are really changing. So from where you sit, how do we reconcile this desire to change something about our bodies, whether it’s lose weight, gain weight, dye our hair, whatever, you know, look better, get the eyelash extensions. Yeah. Versus I’m gonna accept myself just the way I am.

Rachael (05:32):

Right. Yeah. I, I mean, I remember the very first time I started questioning my body. It was when everyone started going through puberty, except me and I was too skinny. Right. So, and then it was like a year later I was like, oh my gosh, I’m too fat. <laugh> right. So, I mean, it started at like 11 and 12 years old of like that swing back and forth. If I’m not good enough. And it followed me all the way up until, I mean, a few years ago before I really learned to start building my confidence in myself for who I am and not according to what my body looks like. And I love the whole body PO positivity movement. It’s amazing. And one of the things where I have really kind of reconciled of like, okay, where do, where do we find that balance of what is health and what is culture telling me what health is.

Rachael (06:24):

I love to, to simplify it and say what gives me energy? And then I get to just like throw out everything else. And it might be ILA like eyelash extensions, give me energy. Right. I mean, that’s not a, a personal thing for me, but like, I mean, if somebody loves that, if it, if that’s like a preference for them, that’s like, yeah, that gives me energy. Go for it. Right. Dye your hair, do whatever gives you personal energy. But then like with your own specific body, I love to just say what foods are gonna give me energy today. And like, when you eat for energy, when you exercise for energy, your body is gonna look the way it’s created to look and we can throw out all the expectations and just say, okay, what makes me feel good? That’s kind of the, the, the, the simplified version of what I do for myself and what I do for my clients.

Michelle (07:16):

I like that. That’s very, very, um, what brings me joy, Marie con kind of like how we can simplify our, our space, but this idea of just, how does it make me feel? Yeah. Does it make me feel terrible that I’m, you know, restricting this food and eating this way? Well then maybe that’s not something I should be doing with my time. <laugh> right. If I feel really good by making these choices, it’s a whole different energy, isn’t it? Yeah.

Rachael (07:39):

Yeah. And I think as women, we forget to ask ourselves what makes me feel good? It’s, you know, we’re taught what makes everybody else happy and we’re, you know, what makes my partner happy? What makes my friends feel like I’m connected with them or whatever. And it’s, you know, it’s a it’s culture to tell, Hey, you have to be accepted. But like, when you just like, really kind of go inward and say, okay, how do I accept myself? What feels good in my body? Everything else can just kind of fall away and you can breathe and start to focus on what matters.

How to stop putting yourself last

Michelle (08:14):

Well, this is gonna dovetail beautifully with conversation that we wanna have about how this all works within a, a relationship. Yeah. Right. Within a marriage. Cause before we hit record, you said something about this idea of having to take care of ourselves first. Yeah. And it sounds like that’s what you’re saying here too. Talking about what makes us happy. What makes us feel good before we worry about everybody else? So why don’t you take us there? How does this start to play into our relationships?

Rachael (08:41):

Yeah. 90% of the women that come to me, when we first start to dive into their relationships, most of them can see many areas of their life, where they are constantly people pleasing, constantly giving to their partners, constantly giving to their kids, to their homes, to their jobs. And they forget to really look and go, how do I give to myself? And they don’t even see a possibility. They’re like, there’s so much, there’s so much to do. There’s so much burden on me to take care of everything that they’re not taking the time to say, okay, wait a second. I’m allowed to breathe too. I’m a human first before I’m a mom before I’m a wife before I’m a business owner or whatever it is. Right. I’m a human. And I get to say no to every single thing else so that I can care for myself. And that’s really hard for most women to, to step back and do.

Michelle (09:38):

That made me go, whoa. And not because, I mean, yes, we’re all on board with like, we can say no to something. We can say no to a couple things, but you just said, we could say no to everything besides ourselves. That was like, whoa. I mean, what about my kids? What about, what about this? What about that? I mean, how do you, how do your clients react to that? 

Rachael (10:00):

Do you reconcile that? Yeah. I mean, well, first of all, you get to get really clear on what you want. Right? Most moms don’t want to just abandon their kids. <laugh> so, so what do I want, how do I want to show up for my, for my partner and for my, and get really clear on what you want and then what you don’t want. And so now you can show up for your partner and for your kids and go, wait a second. I do want this. And that allows you to do it with so such a different energy than I have to do this. And then on the flip side, what don’t I wanna do? Am I doing my teenager’s laundry? And I don’t want to, how can you step back and go, Hey teenager, here’s your laundry. You get to do it now. You know, am I making dinner every night? And I actually don’t want to, what if you stop three nights a week, right? Like getting really clear on your once and your, you know, things that you don’t, one is step one. And then you approach it with a much different energy that like, then you can show up and be the person that you wanna do be and love the people that you wanna love from an energy that feeds you instead of an energy that, that zaps who you are as a human. Wow.

How negative body image impacts your relationship

Michelle (11:14):

Okay. You’re right. That is you showing up at the totally different energy. Just like you could show up to like how you think about your body with two totally different energies. One is like, does this make me feel good? The other is, yeah, like you said, does this make everybody else feel good? Is this what I’m supposed to be doing? Yeah. When you’re working with your clients and, um, in your experience, how is body image impact acting marriages and relationships in general?

Rachael (11:41):

Oh, hugely it, you know, most women like when, when we first get married, there’s those, you know, natural hormones that draw you to each other, you’re attracted to each other. Like it it’s easy, right? But over time after you either gain weight or lose weight or have stretch marks have kids like your body image starts to waiver slowly bit by bit. And then you start to project your own internal feelings onto your partner. So your partner might not even be thinking, oh God they’re fat. Or, or I hate those stretch marks, but you’re pre, they end up projecting these feelings onto their partner and assuming that, and then so they withdraw. Like they start to withdraw from intimacy and hide and, and really lack the confidence that they want in the bedroom, in their conversations, in their heart to heart intimacy overall, they just start to their confidence crumbles over time. So I really help them to start slowly building that confidence back up.

Michelle (12:44):

Do you think that’s happening for men too? 

Rachael (12:50):

I do. I do. I’ve actually coached a couple. Sometimes I’ll coach a woman for several months and then her husband is like, wait, I wanna be coach too. So the, the, the men will come on as well and will coach them. And it is absolutely happening for men too. We’re, we’re constantly worried about what our partners think and like what I really work on my clients, whether they’re men or women, they’re usually women. When the men come on too, I work on with both of them, how to stop worrying about what your partner thinks and really just start to pay attention to how your own story about yourself is holding you back. And when we can change that story that you’re telling about yourself, then you’re able to show up in your relationship with confidence and know how to have the hard conversations and know how to say, Hey, I actually want our intimate life to be better too. Right. And really start to, to have those tough conversations from a place of total love for yourself so that you’re not projecting all those feelings onto your partner. Now, how


Michelle (13:54):

Often do you come across the situation where one of the two in a relationship wants the other one to go on a diet, wants the other one, you know, to lose that weight, you know, has that really does have that expectation of the other partner? Cause I feel like that happens.

Rachael (14:13):

Yeah. I, I can remember one time this year where a partner was actually very critical of his wife and, um, and it really affected her self confidence. So what we really worked on was letting him have his thoughts and really owning that she could show up and be the person she wanted to be. If she wanted to go on a diet for, if she doesn’t okay, how can you own that? You are the size you want to be. And she actually ended up saying, I like the size I am and a girl <laugh>. And, and so we determined she did not need to lose weight, but she wanted to build her confidence so that she, she could show up in her marriage and say, look, you get to have your thoughts. I get to own my thoughts. I’m confident. I love myself the way I am. I love my stretch marks. And you know, I don’t know where that relationship is gonna go, but she is so much more happy in herself and, and trusting herself and processing her feelings in such a healthy way that, you know, she’s actually decided no matter where this relationship goes, I know I’m gonna be okay.

Aligning love and wellbeing

Michelle (15:20):

That is so super powerful. Yeah. Wow. Okay. Cuz right. Cuz yes, it happens. And I see it happen on both sides and it maybe it’s because of weight, maybe it’s because of health issues. Right. I’m worried about my husband because his cholesterol, because we always wanna fix the other person. Yeah. You know, there’s like that, that, yeah. That critical thing that comes in anyway. So that seems like a, an extra complication when you are already kind of in the midst of dealing with your own body image issues, and now you have this other person’s stuff coming at you, which like you said, could often, uh, be a projection of their own stuff, right? 

Rachael (15:55):

Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And then, you know, even like a lot of my clients come to me and they are starting to care for themselves and really grow in their mental and emotional and physical health and they see their partners not caring for themselves. And they’re like, I feel like I’m dragging them along. I feel like I’m going and doing all these amazing things and they’re just staying stuck in where they are. So that’s another thing I help them to do is say, Hey, do you want to be in this marriage? If so, how can you really, you know, show up and love your, your partner as they are and trust their journey for exactly what it is. And when you can show up in a relationship like that, where if you, if you love your partner and you’re, you’re wanting to stay in the marriage, really being able to trust their journey is gonna help you to communicate so much better with them and, and really getting curious about them. Right. And having great conversations with them instead of approaching it from like a, a very critical and judgemental way is the big thing I helped my clients on as well.

Michelle (17:00):

That’s huge. I mean, I remember having those feelings about my ex-husband, where it was like I had gone on this journey. I had changed my health. I had changed my life and I felt like he wasn’t doing the work and he wasn’t doing anything and not to my credit at all. Wasn’t okay with that. You know, like I was having a really hard time reconciling that. So when I started dating again, I thought, you know what, I’m gonna find me a man who is into health and wellness. Like that is really important to me, that’s one of my core values. And then it was interesting. Cause I, I was finding men that like, that was true, but they were also kind of jerks and maybe they were so, so into themselves and how they looked in the mirror that I didn’t like who they were in a relationship. And I, I realized like, oh, okay, we all get to be on our own journey. Yeah. And it’s like about health autonomy, even if you’re married, like you get to make decisions about you and they get to make decisions about them.

Rachael (17:53):

Shocking, shocking. I love those two words together. Health autonomy, like, yeah. And then in a relationship you get to just say, okay, do I, does this person have enough of my wants? Right. Are we a want match? And if so, that doesn’t mean you’re perfect in every area. It’s just like, Hey, I wanna be with this person now I get to learn how to accept them. Even on all the things that I think they should change. <laugh> that’s

Michelle (18:18):

Right. That’s part of loving them. Right. Rick love is a verb and sometimes you have to. Yeah. Yeah. Okay. So, um, you mentioned again, I think this was before I hit record that you had had an, where you wanted to lose weight mm-hmm <affirmative> but instead you learned how to be confident before you lost the weight. And I just thought well that we have to talk about

What you can do to feel confident in your body

Rachael (18:39):

Yeah. Yeah. I, I mean, you know, from the time I was very young, I always thought I have to lose weight. I have to lose weight. And I thought on the other side of losing weight, I would have so much more confide. I would stop hiding from people. I would stop kind of trying to hide my body and my clothes. I would stop. I would start wanting to be intimate with my husband more because I would be confident. I thought that all of these things would happen after the fact. And then when I started, I really started diving into just kind of the tools was learning in life coaching. And I was like, wait a second. I don’t have to wait. I don’t have to wait until I lose the weight to get there. So I started really playing with the ideas of what would I be thinking if I were the weight that I thought I should be, I would be thinking, oh, I’m, I’m pretty hot. Right. I’m amazing. Like I’m strong. I am energetic. I’m sexy. Like all of those things that I thought that I had to wait to think I started practicing before I ever lost the weight.

Michelle (19:40):

And did you do things to support that? Like I am sexy and you bought yourself, you know, new lingerie or I am, you know, like

Rachael (19:48):

I bought myself clothes that fit. Ah <laugh> I bought myself clothes that fit. And I actually started, like, I started looking at myself. I mean, we’ve all heard the Mel Robbins thing, you know, high five yourself in the mirror. I actually started looking at myself in the mirror and saying, you know, I didn’t high five myself back then, but I, but I looked at myself in the mirror and said, wait a second. Like you’re amaz, like, and I started like looking for the things that I did appreciate and focusing more on those instead of what I perceived as my flaws. And then I even started, you know, looking at my stretch marks and things like that and saying, I’m thankful for those. Why am I thankful for those? Because it’s my body, you know, working the way it’s supposed to, of work. You know, I’m even thankful for some of my fat rolss because you know what your body is supposed to store some fat when it eats extra <laugh> right.

Rachael (20:39):

Like, and like just appreciating my body for what it is. And when I started really appreciating my body for what it was, I stopped emotionally eating so much. And it became a little bit easier to get to the weight that I wanted to be. But, you know, and then even like working on believing my husband, like my husband, you know, he was into me. It wasn’t that, you know, it wasn’t that he wasn’t into me, but working on believing that my husband thinks I’m hot. Right. Like, believe him, don’t doubt him. Don’t pretend like he’s making this up. Right. Like, but why do we do that? I don’t know. <laugh> so, you know, really working on just practicing those thoughts that I thought I had to lose weight for, to have practicing those thoughts now and, and living like I believed them, allowed me to really, truly believe them and get more confident in my marriage. Get more confident in intimacy being naked in front of my husband. Right. Like all of those things, they became something that I could do, no matter what weight I was. So right. And no

Michelle (21:45):

Matter what weight you’ll be in the future. Yeah. I mean, we hear things like, um, you know, stand naked in front of the mirror and like, appreciate your body and, or I don’t know, things like that. I, I don’t know how effective that is, but are there any exercises like that, that you encourage your clients to try?

Rachael (22:02):

Yeah. I mean, I have a client who recently, you know, she wanted to up level her sex in the bedroom and she had this lingerie in, in her drawer for like the past five years. Yeah. So I was like, just try it on and put some music on dance in front of the mirror, like, get, get used to it before you try it on for your partner. And so she did it and the next week she came back and said it was awful. It was just, and, and so I know, so she was like, it wasn’t even that my body was awful. It was just that it didn’t fit. You know, it was like in the drawer from five years ago. And so I said like, if lingerie is something you wanna try, find something that resonates with you, don’t find something that resonated with, you know, five year old, you know, past, you find something that resonates now.

Rachael (22:50):

And so she did and you know, and she got used to it before she tried it on for her partner. And just simple things like that of like practicing, showing up how you wanna show up is huge in building that sexy confidence in the bed bedroom. But even beyond the bedroom, like looking at yourself off and looking, I, I love to tell my partner, my, uh, my clients look at yourself in the eyes, right? Like the eyes are the window to the soul. Like that’s like, and just say, I got you, right. Like, look in the mirror and say, I know you have this list of things to do today. I know you have all these things going on, but I got you. Right. Like have yourself and nurture yourself. Almost like a mother would like <laugh> yes. You know, like, like have your own back, like build that, that, that is one of the thing.

Rachael (23:39):

The two things to build confidence are your ability to have your own back. Even when things fall apart, say I got you, right? Like, I’m gonna show up for you. Just like, I would show up for anybody I’m gonna show up for you. And then the second one is to trust yourself, to experience human emotions. So instead of brushing sadness under the rug, instead of brushing frustration under rug, pull them out, look at them and say, I trust myself to experience this and then allow yourself the pleasure of processing your emotions instead of shoving them under the rug.

Michelle (24:20):

And we would do this four hour best friend, right. Our best friend could be falling apart or had even had made a big mistake or like literally anything. And we would say, I got you. Or we would say, we’ll sit next to them and cry and hug, do whatever it takes. Like we’ll do it for our best friend, but will we do it for ourselves,

Rachael (24:40):

Right? Yeah. Yeah. So let’s be our own best friend.

Michelle (24:44):

I can’t think of a better place to start.

Rachael (24:47):

Yeah, absolutely

The power in showing up for yourself

Michelle (24:48):

Amazing. So this is gonna, uh, help us, obviously in our relationships, this is going to help. I would imagine just as much at work, you know, just as much in your career, just as much in any, any place that you’re showing up in your life. If you can show up with that confidence. And with that, I am my own best friend, right? That’s not just, it’s not just about marriage. Right? You must see your clients sort of blossom, uh, into other areas.

Rachael (25:15):

Oh my gosh. So many issues. I mean, one, one client came to me just to work on her sex life, which most people come to work on all the other areas, but she’s like, everything’s fine. I just wanna more sex <laugh> but she came and we ended up like really working on an issue with her sister-in-law and, you know, she was like, I can’t believe my, my sister-in-law and I have a better relationship now because I came to work on my sex life. <laugh> right, right. So it’s like, it’s literally, I mean, these tools are really showing up for yourself. It bleeds into every area of your life from, you know, your, your partners to your health, to your work, you know, everything is affected by the way we see and treat ourselves. This

Michelle (25:59):

Is so, so much good stuff I’m gonna have to like, listen and re-list and try to, you know, influence the things that you’re saying and to my life where you know, where I’m not married. But like I said, it’s not just about marriage. It’s about so much more. Um, you have to tell everyone where they can find you. And I understand you have a free gift for everybody on your website. Is that right?

Rachael (26:19):

Yeah. I have a, a 10 minute class that, um, it has one of my top tips of, of creating a connected marriage on there. It’s a video class. You can just go to Rachel cunningham.com and that’s Rachael with an a E L cunningham.com and they’ll see it there.

Michelle (26:37):

Okay. Terrific. And we’ll put a link to that in the show notes for anyone who didn’t manage to write that down in time, you can go to shoes, power.com/podcast to get all of our show notes. Rachel, thank you so much for joining us today.

Rachael (26:53):

You are so welcome. Thank you for having me.

Michelle (27:07):

Man, this episode and last week’s episode about boundaries and not having to fix everything, both of those, remind me how much I’ve grown, like massively grown in relationships. It really is about taking care of yourself first and living autonomously, even within that relationship, right? Like we all get to decide for ourselves how we want to move and eat and live. We’re not here to change our partner. That’s not our role. We’re here to take care of ourselves, which as I mentioned at the top of the show, I have a free system to help you stay on track or to get on track and feel good within yourself. And guess what healthy relationships are part of that you can download my free system at ShesGotPower.com/HowIFeel and I’ll see you next week.