You and your spouse or partner may be best friends, but are you allies when it comes to getting in shape, eating well, and living a healthy lifestyle?
For many couples, the answer is no, say psychology professors Thomas Bradbury, PhD, and Benjamin Karney, PhD. They are co-directors of the Relationship Institute at UCLA and co-authors of the recent book Love Me Slender: How Smart Couples Team Up to Lose Weight, Exercise More, and Stay Healthy Together.
Over the past 2 decades the professors videotaped thousands of young married couples to study how couples communicate. They found that many important conversations revolved around health. “Often we’d see couples in which both partners wanted to get healthier, but they just weren’t getting traction,” Bradbury says.
But some couples do make it work, he says. Here’s what they do (and don’t do) to achieve a healthy lifestyle together:
DO model healthy living. “Switch to nonfat milk, for example, or order the chicken sandwich instead of the hamburger,” Bradbury says. “Small things that we see modeled in our relationship start to become the norm.”
DON’T simply make suggestions if your partner struggles with their weight. Focus your energy on understanding the problem. “Sometimes the most effective thing to do is say something like, ‘Tell me what’s behind your need to lose weight,'” Bradbury says.
DO think long term. Good health takes work, so discuss the rewards to be reaped in years to come, like playing with your grandkids. Bradbury says, “Tell your partner, ‘I want to be with you for a long, long time.’ That can be a powerful message. And chocolate cake every day isn’t consistent with that.”
Make it a team effort.
You can’t do Pritikin for someone else, even your spouse. Nagging, using scare tactics, or playing the cop rarely works either.
Take the “we’re on the same team” approach. Repeatedly, studies have found that couples working together make successful lifestyle change more likely. Let your partner know that you’re his biggest fan. When he wins, you win. When he makes the effort, even the smallest of steps, you’ll be cheering him on.
And remember that two people working toward the same goal enhances each other’s motivation and provides great support if the going gets tough.
2. Replace negative comments and coercion with positive feedback and information.
Instead of trying to dictate a partner’s health – the restaurant entrees they order, the type of exercise they do – talk to them. Let them know how much they mean to you, and how much you look forward to spending many active healthy years together.
And if your significant other is already following the Pritikin Program, ask, “Is there something I can do to make it easier for you?”