Encouraging Each Other Toward Wellness
Magic at Midlife: Your Relationship Roadmap for Romance After 40
Most of us struggle with our health habits as we get older, and a partner can be either a great help or a significant hindrance. Research has shown that we are more likely to eat in a healthy manner and to exercise regularly if we have an “accountability partner” – and who is handier than your very own sweetheart?
We are often out of sync with our partners – one person starts a rigorous exercise program just as the other one gives up and slinks toward the couch. It is important for motivated partners to offer a gentle invitation rather than a reproachful rebuke, and for struggling partners to be supportive even if they are not yet ready to put on their sneakers.
Here are a few things you can do to encourage each other:
Remember that weight can be a significant source of shame, and be kind when addressing your partner’s weight challenges. You can’t make someone want to lose weight, and trying to shame them into it is counterproductive.
Set up regular routines that work for both of you, such as taking a walk after supper or first thing in the morning.
Plan healthy meals together. If you both like to cook and can take turns providing nutritious fare, that’s great. If you are more worried about your partner’s weight or health than your partner is, offer to take on more of the meal planning and preparation. If your partner needs to follow a more rigorous diet than you do, be gracious about it and eat your treats when you are away from home.
Be willing to take on some extra responsibilities to help your partner. You might do the laundry so your partner has time to go to the gym, for example. Don’t forget to ask for what you need, if you are the one who could benefit from some accommodation.
Try to build more activity into your lifestyle. If you are both physically able, you may enjoy hiking, bicycling, or gardening together. Consider a new hobby that will get you moving.
Plan ahead to avoid pitfalls. Do you have healthy, easy-to-fix ingredients available for nights when both of you are too tired for ambitious cooking? Can you choose a “date night” restaurant that offers healthy options? Do you think about how to stay on the path to wellness when you travel together?
Don’t be the police or a parent. If you tell your partner what to do or what not to do, you are pretty much guaranteeing a defensive or obstinate reaction. Each of us is responsible for our own actions, and an offer to help is more effective than a scolding.
Focus on the positive, not the negative. Lifestyle and health changes are difficult and it may take many attempts before you reach your goals. Loving partners will remain patient and supportive no matter how long it takes.
Pick up on the first signs of positive change and give your sweetheart credit for every step in the right direction. Your support and approval can be powerful motivators.
Northwest authors Jennifer Y. Levy-Peck, PhD, a psychologist, and her husband Charles Peck are write a weekly column on midlife relationships. They are working on a new book, "Magic at Midlife: Your Relationship Roadmap for Romance After 40."
Previous Magic at Midlife Columns: