What To Say To Your Partner When They're Not Taking Care Of Their Health
Are you and your partner misaligned when it comes to health practices?
When my dating clients ask me what's most important regarding similar values and lifestyles, they are often surprised when, along with values related to politics and social issues, I always mention food—especially when one of them practices mindful, healthy eating, and the other doesn't and won't consider it. It's not about specific food choices, i.e., whether you're vegan or vegetarian, doing keto or paleo, or whatever specific eating practices you each might have. These are not nearly as important as the bigger question of how generally health-conscious you each are.
Even if it's not an issue at the start of a relationship (you, in fact, might not even notice how much your lifestyles misalign until after you've started to live together), having different levels of concern about wellness can lead to intense stress between a couple. It's not easy to watch someone you love disregard their physical and mental well-being day in and day out, and especially over time if you're building a life together, it can even feel a bit frightening knowing that your partner's life now or in the future might be fraught with illness or suffering.
"My heart is breaking because my husband insists on eating fast food and smoking," one client once told me. 'He is already having some minor heart problems, and he's only 42, and I'm scared to death that he is going to drop dead of a heart attack and leave me and the kids alone." Her husband would get angry and resist when she tried to talk to him about it, telling her to stop worrying or to stop "trying to control" him.
Here's what to say.
Your partner might be in complete denial about what they're doing to themselves, and if your gentle nudges to spring for greener meals or go for a run with you are received poorly, then your partner likely isn't thinking long term about how their decisions could affect them—or they just don't care.
What they should definitely care about either way? You.
If encouraging them to join you on your wellness journey isn't helping, try something along these lines:
I love you, and I'm very scared that you might get sick or—if worse comes to worst—that I will lose you. It can be really devastating to see you (eating so poorly, ignoring exercise, or whatever other unhealthy habits they have).
I need for you to not only care about what you are doing to yourself but to care about the effect it's having on me (and the family, if applicable).
I need to know that you care enough about me to do what you need to do to stay healthy.
Hopefully your partner just doesn't recognize the way their unhealthy behavior affects you in the present and could affect you in the future. If after this conversation they still refuse to change, then it's important to recognize what that means: The real problem is not just that your partner doesn't care about themselves—it's that they don't care about you and your life together enough to make a change.
What if they refuse to make a change?
If this is the case, then the only other thing you can do is be very gentle and compassionate with yourself. You need to accept your helplessness over your partner and that you have no control over them. I've been through this with a number of people in my family whom I love, so I know how very hard it is to accept that someone you love might be bringing harm to themselves. One of the hardest feelings to accept is our helplessness over others' choices, especially when those choices are hurting them, you, and others. You need to accept that getting angry, pleading, threatening, or anything else isn't going to control the other person or suddenly get them to care about something they don't care about.
Is it worth breaking up over? It really depends on your personal willingness to be with someone who's unwilling to both take responsibility for their own health and care for your shared well-being—because at the end of the day, in a relationship, your partner's well-being will inevitably affect yours as well, whether physically, emotionally, or spiritually. It can be weathered and overcome by focusing on loving yourself, but it will most certainly take inner strength to get to that place of acceptance.
If you're early in your relationship with someone and begin to notice differences in your health consciousness, it's vital that you start having conversations with your partner about it right away and take this into consideration before making a commitment. You and your partner needn't be on the same leg of your wellness journey, but having a shared motivation to pursue it should be a nonnegotiable.
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Margaret Paul, Ph.D., is a best-selling author, relationship expert, and Inner Bonding® facilitator. She has counseled individuals and couples since 1968. She is the author/co-author of nine books, including the internationally best-selling Do I Have to Give Up Me to Be Loved by You?, Healing Your Aloneness, Inner Bonding, and Do I Have to Give Up Me to Be Loved by God? and her recently published book, Diet For Divine Connection. She is the co-creator of the powerful Inner Bonding® healing process, recommended by actress Lindsay Wagner and singer Alanis Morissette, and featured on Oprah, as well as on the unique and popular website Inner Bonding.