If you’re in a relationship, whether you like it or not, your partner affects your health.

Didn’t it seem when you first started dating, that you and your partner had everything in common? Now married, several years later, while you applaud your independent interests, they also pose challenges. Before children, my husband and I ran and trained together. Kids changed that. Today, I work out early in the morning, and my husband, PJ, works out at night. Our routines fit our changed lifestyle. However, these healthy lifestyle rhythms didn’t just fall into place. It took work and time. It’s a common complaint I often hear from my clients:
 
“I want to be healthy, but my partner doesn’t seem to care about making healthy changes.”
“My partner isn’t on board with the healthy changes I’m trying to make. She’s always wanting to eat out.”
“It feels like my parter is trying to sabotage my healthy efforts when they bring home my favorite ice cream.”
 
Carrie, my client (name changed), wanted to lose weight by moving to a plant-based diet. She also started going to the gym to meet with a trainer after dinner. Even though her husband was aware of her goals, he complained. He didn’t like the new recipes she was preparing. Plus, he missed their after-dinner Netflix couple time; replaced by her exercise routine. She felt torn on how to move forward.
 
It’s true. Not getting the support from your partner is a large barrier to habit change. To help our clients navigate this common challenge, I turned to my favorite licensed psychotherapist, Pattie Cashman.
headshot of white women in red jacket smiling in front of a yellow tulip tree

Look Below the Surface

“When one partner changes their lifestyle and the other partner isn’t on board, it’s time to take a closer look. The non-supportive partner may feel a lack of connection. It’s also possible the partner may feel ashamed they haven’t been able to initiate or sustain similar health goals,” says Pattie.

Remember, Our Spouses Can’t Read Our Minds

Pattie reminds us to “be careful before you jump to conclusions.” Many times, partners start new habits without sharing their goals with their spouse. “Your partner might not be aware of the significance of your decisions and efforts. Create the opportunity to sit down and discuss things with them when it makes sense. Take yourself seriously. Bring the gravitas that you feel to the table.”
 
When I decided to give up my glass of weeknight wine to help with sleep, I made a point to tell PJ what I was doing and why. It was important to me, that he didn’t ask if I wanted a glass as he poured his. To be successful, I knew I needed his encouragement. No matter how long you’ve been married, your spouse can’t read your mind. Share your goals, clearly.

Embrace Vulnerability

It’s not easy, but Pattie reminds us to “be vulnerable.” Have you really shared your feelings with your partner about how you feel about yourself and your weight/health? If it’s about weight, do they know that you don’t like them to see you naked? That you don’t feel sexy any longer? Can you share with him how shameful it is for you to keep trying, and failing? She adds, “You need to help your spouse understand that your pain runs deeper than just looking in the mirror and not liking what you see.”

Lead By Example

If you’re the one making healthier choices, remind yourself you’re on your own journey. We can’t prioritize other peoples’ priorities. The best way to encourage change in your partner is to lead by example. Nagging or bragging will forge an even deeper wedge between the two of you. The highest road is letting them witness how your healthy habits improve your physical and mental health.

Be Specific In How They Can Help

Pattie suggests, “Get specific in how they can help you for a period of time.” For example, they could avoid bringing home certain trigger foods for a couple of weeks. You could ask them to compliment your efforts like your consistency in getting to the gym.
 
In Carrie’s case, she found that meal planning with her husband helped. “He actually liked several meatless meals. He just never considered them meatless!” Her husband loved her vegetarian chili and Portobello sandwiches with Swiss cheese. “I also grilled pork and chicken on the weekends so he could add the meat to my meatless dishes during the week,” she said.

Give It Time

Carrie admitted that in the beginning, she felt guilty. “I couldn’t help thinking about him sitting alone on the couch watching our show,” said Carrie. Pattie commented,
“By taking care of herself, she was taking care of her marriage.” Pattie suggests that we share those thoughts with with our spouses. “Carrie’s husband would benefit to know her reasons for heading to the gym vs. watching their show. By taking care of herself, she could more fully contribute to their relationship. Overtime, they would find a rhythm that worked for them as a couple, but they should not expect it to happen overnight.”
The bottom line is that the buck stops with you. But, there is power in partnership. Pattie reminds us:
“Let your desires be truly known. It’s far easier for others to support us when we openly communicate. Losing weight, changing habits, exercising more are big challenges. Transformation comes in tiny steps. It’s often trial and error in knowing how our partner can help us in our journey. But, they certainly cannot help if they don’t understand the importance of it to you.”

Jennifer McDaniel

Jennifer McDaniel is a Registered Dietitian, Media Spokesperson, and co-author of Prevention's Mediterranean Table Cookbook. She and her team of Registered Dietitians aim to help their clients go further, make change last, and unlock their potential. She lives in St. Louis, MO with her husband, and three young sons. If you are interested in working with Jennifer, please visit our contact page.