Last month, I addressed the issue of finding a mate who shares your interest in leading a healthy lifestyle.
But what about folks who are already in a long-term relationship with a beloved partner whose strengths don't extend to a concern for health? How can you persuade a mate to prioritize their health, fitness and weight management?
That's what Eric wanted to know after he read my column. As he put it, "I'm concerned that my wife of many years doesn't exercise or seem at all concerned about her diet. She's also put on a lot of weight. The change in her appearance bothers me but, more importantly, I'm afraid of the impact her habits will have on her health as we get older. When I say something, she dismisses my suggestions as criticism."
Here are a few tips for Eric and others who want to bring up the sensitive subject of health habits with their mates:
• Be willing to communicate properly. Only direct, honest and nonjudgmental communication has any chance of being successful when it comes to confronting your partner about weight, fitness or health.
• Do some soul searching. Make sure you're honest with yourself about why you are concerned about your spouse's health habits. If appearance is your only real concern, you will never sound genuine when you say that health is your major worry.
• Keep it simple. Decide on one or two main points that you want to get across, and practice how you'll deliver your message.
Here's a script that clearly communicates loving concern:
"When we married I envisioned growing old and happy together, but I'm worried that how you take care of yourself will mean I'll lose you early or you won't be able to really enjoy our old age together.''
On the other hand, delivering a lengthy list of reasons you think your partner should change can get overwhelming for both of you. The more you say, the more you detract from your main message and increase the chances of being misunderstood.
• Choose the right time and place. Put yourself in your mate's place. Under what conditions would you feel most comfortable listening to your spouse share what they find disappointing about you? Probably not when you're out at a romantic restaurant celebrating a special occasion. Or when you've had a tough day. Choose a private, quiet time when you're both experiencing a minimum of stress.
• Focus on how you deliver your message. Make sure everything you say sounds kind, loving and accepting. Nobody responds well to judgment. Start by sharing how much you love and appreciate your mate, and how these feelings are connected to your concern about their habits. Make it as easy as you can for your partner to accept what you are saying.
• Once you've said it, drop it. They heard you do your best to share your concerns. Now it's up to them. Repeatedly bringing up the issue as if they might have forgotten what you said will only invite conflicts in the relationship and possibly close their ears to any further talk of the issue.
• Don't try to control your mate. That's a surefire way to turn off your partner to anything you have to say. Use that energy on keeping yourself healthy.
• Be empathetic. It may help your mate to hear you say that you understand lifestyle changes aren't easy and you want to help. If you've never struggled with weight or health issues, take the time to educate yourself with reputable sources of information.
• Decide if their health habits are a deal breaker. While we would all like to be accepted as we are, there are times when a spouse seriously feels they cannot be happy under the conditions of their relationship. If that's how you feel, your partner deserves to know that. On the other hand, empty threats don't motivate positive behavior.
There is no magic when it comes to helping another person change their health habits. All you can do is lovingly and honestly share your own concerns and hope your mate will listen. It's not a guarantee, but it's the best you can possibly do.
Dr. Lavinia Rodriguez is a Tampa psychologist and expert in weight management. She is the author of "Mind Over Fat Matters: Conquering Psychological Barriers to Weight Management." Send questions to her at [email protected]