Me, Myself, and I

A strong social network is a key element of a full and happy life, but when push comes to shove, you're often on your own. Here's how to be your own best company. 

Romance: One to Tango

Trying to learn piano? Meet your deadline? Do Pilates? You might think a loving partner will keep you on track, but new research from Northwestern University shows the opposite: Thinking about how someone bolsters you can undermine your motivation. When we know another person will pitch in, we unconsciously rely on them to move our goals forward—and stop moving ourselves. But don't ditch your darling: In some cases, collective aims benefit from outsourcing. Here are the best and not-so-helpful ways to leverage your partner's support. —Michele Lent Hirsch

The Goal: Drop 10 pounds

Harm: Don't rely on your girlfriend to cook healthy meals. This sort of help "dilutes the degree to which you feel solely responsible," says researcher Eli Finkel. You'll think, "She's making veggies tonight"—and feel exempt from the gym.

Help: Use your ladyfriend as a cheerleader. If a partner makes positive remarks about your goals but doesn't promise dinner, you'll feel the onus to hop on the treadmill and actually pay attention to your food choices.

The Goal: Outshine Stevie Wonder

Harm: Though it's tempting, try not to have your husband teach you chords every Monday. Without realizing it, you'll procrastinate more Tuesday through Sunday, even if you intend to practice throughout the week.

Help: Ask your partner to watch the kids while you play solo. You'll put in more hours that way than if you expect a weekly "Heart and Soul" duet.

The Goal: Scrub the house

Harm: Don't expect your wife to keep the windows sparkling if you're the one who's good with a squeegee. (Similarly, don't tell her you'll do laundry if you can't tell detergent from fabric softener.)

Help: Divide and conquer. Finkel speculates that "pooling resources" allows each person to do what he or she excels at: Your home will get tidier if you each do tasks that come naturally. Good news for the house—bad news for those with stronger elbow grease.

Me, Myself, and I