Are you fighting with your spouse over health and wellness? I know how difficult and emotionally challenging it can be to motivate your spouse to get healthy. Nagging my life partner for 20 years to adopt a healthier eating plan did not help. Pushing him hard to change his ways and live healthier just made him more resistant to trying. What I learned in that process is that fighting an immovable force will not help you or your partner to get and stay healthy. This behavior can lead to a very unhealthy emotional relationship. Gently motivate your partner with the below six tips for inspiration.
My Partner Refuses to Exercise or Eat Healthy with Me, What Can I Do?
In 2015 I was diagnosed with severe degenerative osteoarthritis of the spine. Treatment choices were simple; pain therapy, which consisted of opioid prescriptions and possible addiction, or exercise and dietary changes. Living with chronic pain was horrible. I wanted to discover a lifestyle which would lower my pain and reduce my need for prescription medicines. This meant dedication to positive lifestyle changes.
I craved support from my family. Doing this alone was difficult. I felt my spouse should want to help me find better health by improving his own health with me. To my surprise, my husband wanted nothing to do with any healthy changes for himself. He didn’t care what I did with my food and health. He simply did not want to be involved in getting healthy himself. We fought. It caused a lot of tension in our lives.
Getting healthy with dietary changes was recommended by my favorite Integrative Functional Nutritionist. My diet is dairy-free, grain-free, and sugar-free version of the Mediterranean Diet. Within four days of starting the new plan I had less chronic pain. In 30 days, I went off the high blood pressure medications that I had been on for 20 years.
My health has undergone a complete renewal with better exercise and eating habits. I began walking 30 minutes to one hour per day. I asked my spouse to walk with me every day for many years, he always refused. Yet I continued and felt great.
1. Exercise, Eat Well, and Get Healthy Yourself – Forcing Diet and Exercise on Someone Else WILL NEVER WORK
As I started feeling better, I became more and more enthused about being healthy. Every day I had less back pain, improved moods, and a fun active life. I enjoyed food more and felt good. (Here is my Anti-inflammatory Dietary Guide if you want to learn how I lost weight and improved my health.) I want wellness for my spouse. Because I love my husband. I want him to be more active and have fun with me. Having the joy of feeling good is a gift to share.
The years moved forward and every day I asked him, pushed him, and begged him to try to become healthier. Nagging him incessantly only made him resist more strongly. I wanted him to be interested in living a long life with me. More critically, his health issues were not managed well which affected his weight, his mood, and the way he treated me. Personally, it was emotionally hurtful, upsetting, and frustrating for me.
I would prepare delicious healthy meals. He would come home from work and refuse to eat the food I cooked. If I presented a yummy well-prepared vegetable, he would say it tasted like dirt. No vegetables. Exercise was non-existent. No sharing time to get healthy together. I felt lonely, frustrated, and angry. Why didn’t he want to be healthier or get healthy with me?
Put Your Oxygen Mask on First and Get Healthy On Your Own
Ultimately, we argued over his health habits often and it was making both of us unhappy. Our friendship and partnership is good most of the time. The health issue was always the giant elephant in the room. In 2020, five years after I was diagnosed with osteoarthritis and 21 years into our marriage, I FINALLY realized that forcing my husband – or anyone really – to exercise or eat right will never work.
Flight attendants on airplanes tell us that if the oxygen masks drop down, we must first put the oxygen mask on our own face. The next step is to help our fellow passengers survive a disaster. It is important to get healthy first. Set a positive example by working to build a strategy, remain active, stay on your plan, and get strong. Oxygen first, helping others next.
Check your personal expectations and judgements over food. Your spouse or partner in life might not want the same thing you do with their health. What our spouse wants and needs from us is acceptance and encouragement. Clearly, I was trying to control and dominate the situation by nagging and forcing. If you feel pushed and pressured into a situation, you are less likely to change.
2. Respect Your Partner and Openly Discuss Feelings to Motivate Your Spouse to Get Healthy
Respecting your partner and his or her wishes is important. This creates emotional synchronicity and a happier life for the both of you. In your marriage you openly discuss finances, children, religion, and other concerns. You do not control your partners actions. Try to change your approach. Listen and understand how your partner feels about physically and emotionally working towards living a healthier life.
Openly discussing your feelings about wellness together might be the first step towards getting healthy. Your partner might feel overwhelmed by big changes, be afraid of getting medical attention, feel frustrated that you want him or her to change, or simply feel intimidated by the process. A relationship can become ineffective when partners feel attacked and intimidated. Coming together to decide how to move forward with your life goals is critical.
Accepting your partners choices is different than respecting your partners decisions. It might be impossible for you to ever accept or understand why your partner has decided to ignore his or her health. I feel this same way. Yet I have learned that respecting and accepting a person are two different things. Open discussion is a great place to find mutual respect.
3. Positive Reinforcement Can Help Motivate Your Spouse to Get Healthy Without Fighting
When my children were young, I approached all their at-home education with positive reinforcement. The technique with positive reinforcement is to reward positive behavior with praise and ignore – not attack or scold – negative behavior.
If your companion in life does not like to exercise or eat right, ignore that behavior. Focus on setting a positive example yourself. Praise your partner in an encouraging way if your spouse is eating well and exercising. Praise might be as simple as, “Thanks for taking a walk with me Honey” or “I had fun at dinner tonight with you and our friends.” Kindly giving praise does not have to be over-the-top. Positive reinforcement does need to be genuine and authentic.
Encouraging your spouse is much better than criticizing and trying to control him or her. Do physical activities together that do not seem like serious exercises. Follow that with hugs and positive words. Complete one of the tasks as a couple and you will have had fun and exercised without pressure or negativity. Below is a list to get you started with a a little positive reinforcement exercise.
A List of Exercises That Do Not Feel Like You Are Exercising
- Walking at the mall
- Gardening and planting
- Going to the grocery store
- Backyard games
- Swim at a waterpark or pool
- Discover a new city by walking
- Take the stairs
- Take classes in karate, dance, or yoga
- Play a video game where you need to be physical
- Travel to a local park and hike around the park together
- Bike ride
- House cleaning
- Frisbee playing
- Park at the back of the parking lot
If your spouse refuses medical attention, is tremendously overweight, or refuses to take care of his or her health problems, you might feel worried and emotionally distraught. Feeling hurt and betrayed is a common feeling under these circumstances. Your goal was to have a long healthy life together. If your companion refuses to follow common sense health practices, it can feel as if your spouse is behaving like an irresponsible child. Your partner might prefer to live in a state of denial and ignorance. Taking steps towards better health can be challenging.
Open a Healthy Discussion
Open a healthy discussion. Explain that you want your spouse to be in you and your family’s lives for a long time. That you all love and care about your partner. You want him or her to be healthy so you can all stay active. Offer support, not criticism and negativity. Talk about concerns and offer helpfully beneficial – not controlling – solutions. Motivate your spouse to get healthy by making time to spend with your spouse to do wellness tasks together. Ask if your partner is willing to work to set health goals. If so, then make a plan to achieve those goals together.
Remember You Are Not Your Partners Disciplining Mother or Personal trainer
Most importantly, you are not your partner’s mother or nurse or personal trainer. Mothers take control of a child’s diet and health routine to make sure a child will do it, right? It is not your responsibility to be your spouse’s parent. This is an important distinguishing note. If you are unhappy with your partner’s choices, then no amount of pestering and nagging is going to change the situation.
Let’s say that you cannot come together on this issue. A middle-ground is not negotiable for you to motivate your spouse to get healthy. Then you might choose to step back from the topic entirely. Seeking a professional marriage counselor to help you both come to terms might be an option at this point.
5. Encourage Healthy Eating with Positive Words Instead of Negative Words With Your Spouse
Recently, I had a conversation with one of my clients. Her words exactly, “I have repeatedly told my husband that I am not eating processed foods, bread, sugar, dairy, or booze and that he should be doing this too. HE REFUSES TO LISTEN TO ME!”
Read the above aloud to yourself, do you see how controlling and limiting it sounds to someone who is frightened of change?
A Smart Approach to Food
Another approach might be to say, “I have been having more grilled fish with vegetables lately. Wow. So much flavor. Would you like to have some with me tonight for dinner?”
What a difference. Encourage healthy eating with positive words instead of negative words and your partner will have the door open to respond in kind. Motivate your spouse to get healthy in this way. While he or she might still say no, they have an opening to say yes. This is so very important.
6. Cook Healthy food for Dinner and Stop Buying Ultra-Processed Food for the Household
In stepping back from this issue of trying to control your partners desire to be healthy, it is advantageous to take a new approach in order to motivate your spouse to get healthy. Think of it this way – you no longer need to be the person who has uber-control over diet, exercise, or other health concerns for your significant other.
What small control do you have? You can make sure there is no junk food in the home that you have purchased. Preparing meals in a healthful way is supportive, without being domineering. Help support your family in subtle ways instead of running them over with a steam-roller. The list below shares a few healthy ideas that might get your partner and the family started on a better path. Most importantly, focus your energy on getting yourself healthy. Eat well, exercise regularly, and set a positive example.
Tips to Encourage Healthy Food and Smart Diet Changes for Your Family Without Them Knowing It
- Stop buying ultra-processed food for the household. Simply eliminate it from the shopping list.
- Prepare meals that are fresh and super healthy for everyone. Make it non-negotiable that if they do not want to eat the food you prepare, they either go hungry or have to buy and prepare their own unhealthy food themselves.
- Keep fresh fruit and vegetables on the counter available for everyone to snack on at all times.
- Prepare school lunches with fresh foods and no junk food.
- Swap dinner plates for smaller sized plates to reduce excessive meal sizes.
Remember that the only person who can make you happy IS YOU. Know that your partner might never be interested in changing habits. Trying to force an unhealthy round peg into a healthy square hole is emotionally taxing for everyone. Your partner will be more motivated to change and work to get healthy with positive reinforcement. Motivate your spouse to get healthy by getting healthy yourself independent from your partner. Then share positive example setting as the springboard for his or her health outlook.