Why we are hesitant to bring up a partner’s poor physical condition.
We don’t want to hurt their feelings, and sometimes, we feel we’re not in a position to judge; after all, nobody’s perfect, and we all have our shortcomings. To a man, the idea of telling a woman that she’s overweight is about the same as poking a female grizzly. Who has cubs. And an attitude.
Women worry about being stereotyped as a “nag”.
How do we encourage our partners to exercise, eat better, and lose weight without rocking the boat?
Weight Gain, Mental Well-Being, and Underlying Physical Issues
We often hear that compulsive eating, alcohol and drug abuse, and other harmful behaviors are coping mechanisms for stress and psychological pain. While this is often true, weight gain isn’t always a symptom of unhappiness.
Happy marriages aren’t always healthy
While adults who are married are more likely to get regular medical checkups, a 2013 study confirms previous research indicating that men and women who are content in their marriages or live-in relationships are more likely to gain weight over the years than couples who are unhappy with their partners.
“On average, spouses who were more satisfied with their marriage were less likely to consider leaving their marriage, and they gained more weight over time.” — Andrea L. Meltzer, Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology, Southern Methodist University in Dallas
Your partner’s pudginess is not a sign that they don’t care about you. They just don’t have the biological imperative to shape up and shake their tailfeathers. Psychologically, they do want to make you happy, and they want you to be proud of them.
Be sure their weight gain isn’t a symptom of underlying mental health issues
If you suspect your partner’s eating and exercise habits have changed due to stress, grief, a traumatic event, or depression, you might want to take this into consideration when you encourage your partner to take charge of their physical health. All of these can leave a person unmotivated, sapped of energy, and disinterested in their favorite physical activities.
Is Their Weight Gain Caused by Physical Issues?
Weight gain can be a symptom of physical maladies, including endocrine disruptions, nerve and joint pain, balance problems, or recovery from surgical procedures.
When we have a broader perspective on the possible reasons for our partners’ weight gain we can more easily be supportive and compassionate when we address their physical condition.
Encouraging a Healthier Lifestyle
The first thing to understand is that your partner is already aware of his or her weight gain. He may have made vague references to his expanding waistline, and she may have announced her disgust with her “muffin top”. But when we don’t take action—or find inspiration—to pursue our fitness goals, nothing changes.
It might be up to you to shake things up and begin leading by example. Start by using “I” language rather than “You.” It may seem passive aggressive, but sometimes, taking an oblique approach to the topic makes it easier for our partners to take the initiative. After all, you don’t want them to start exercising out of fear of losing you, and you don’t want them to focus on the notion that this is all about what you want.
Here are some useful approaches and ice-breakers:
Focus on health, not weight. Weight loss is about replacing unhealthy habits with those which improve our well-being. When we’re engaged in healthy routines and eating habits, we lose weight; losing weight through dieting alone doesn’t ensure long-term fitness.
- “I’m worried that the stress you’re under at work is affecting your health. What can I do to help you take care of yourself?”
- “I’d love for us to eat better. Can you help me come up with some ideas for healthier dishes we can make together?”
- “I hear that regular sleep routines are important for our health. Can we try to go to bed earlier? Also… Hint hint!”
Take care not to use accusatory or shaming language. Instead, reward positive behavior, and compliment them on the many ways they make you feel good. Instilling confidence, rather than tearing down their self-esteem, is motivating. Shame just breeds resentment and self-doubt.
- “I’m so proud of you for keeping up with our walks this week!” or, even better:
- “Thanks for getting me out for our walk today. I’m glad we can motivate each other.”
- I’m so happy you’re already feeling more energetic!” (Not, “Look how much more attractive you are!”)
“Don’t judge: This includes pointing out how society judges people of extreme weight. I promise you, your loved one is acutely aware of this fact, and no one is judging this person more harshly then they are judging themselves.” — Jennifer Kromberg PsyD, Psychology Today
Use Don’t put your partner on the defensive; lead by example. Don’t be pushy when you’re trying to get your partner to join you on a bike ride, and don’t ask them if they’ve reached their daily goal on the treadmill.
- “I’ve made an appointment with a nutritionist to make sure I’m getting enough calcium. Is it OK if I set up an appointment for you, too? I know you were concerned about your sodium intake, and she might be able to help.”
- “I’m at a good point to take a break from this project. I’m going to squeeze in an extra walk around the block. Can you come with me?”
“Once you start policing, you set yourself up to eventually have to be the bad cop, which can complicate personal relationships.” — Jennifer Kromberg PsyD
Using “Are you able to” language instead of “do you want to” takes the guilt out of your partner’s decision, and sometimes, spontaneous exercise is a great way to reframe fitness as fun, rather than an obligation. Especially when it offers a refreshing “reset” from monotonous chores… or strategic video games.
Don’t be arrogant about your own achievements, but do share your excitement about taking positive steps to reach your own goals.
Attitude is Everything!
Stay positive, supportive, and empathetic as you encourage and inspire your partner’s new healthy habits, and remember that fitness and nutrition are best achieved when each partner is focused on—and committed to—improving their own overall wellness. Good luck on a pursuing a long, healthy, and happy relationship!