Goals like getting up for morning jogs, hitting the gym after work, and sticking to healthier meal plans can be hard to stick to. And when someone we care deeply about doesn’t support us, those goals become even more difficult. But should we leave a significant other simply because he or she doesn’t get our yoga obsession? Find out when conflicting health habits are manageable — and when they’re signs of a much deeper problem.
It’s Not You, It’s Our Lifestyles — The Need-to-Know
It’s science: Romantic partners who exercise together stick with their relationships and their exercise plans for longer than those whose routines diverge. Fun fact: Sharing an exercise “high” can make partners feel closer, and may even increase women’s sex drive The roles of testosterone and alpha-amylase in exercise-induced sexual arousal in women. Hamilton, LD., Fogle, EA., Meston, CM. University of Texas at Austin-Psychology, Austin, Texas. The Journal of Sexual Medicine 2008 April; 5(4): 845-53..
But not all love buddies are each other’s best allies when it comes to staying healthy and fit. One survey of gym-goers in Boston and Washington, D.C. found nearly half of them have partners who think their gym sessions are unnecessary. The survey also found a partner’s lack of support was a huge barrier to sticking to fitness goals. ("You’re going to the gym now? But I haven’t seen you all day!") Unfortunately, any situation involving healthy habits and love lives is bound to get complicated.
Sweat the Subtler Stuff — The Answer/Debate
So a significant other doesn’t share that enthusiasm for Zumba, tennis, or celery root. Should that be a deal breaker?
“Different lifestyles or exercise habits don’t matter when you have a strong emotional connection with your partner,” says couples therapist Dr. Jamie Turndorf, radio host and author of Make Up, Don’t Break Up and Till Death Do Us Part. According to Turndorf, conflicts over divergent health habits are a sign that something’s off in the relationship. Getting pissed at a partner for being too health-conscious may be a way of saying "I don’t feel important enough to you" or "I’m worried you’ll leave me".
On the flip side, sometimes the partner who pays more attention to health and fitness may guilt the other for scarfing down fries or skipping the treadmill. According to Turndof, complaints like "Why don’t you work out more?" or "Couldn’t you eat a little healthier?" might be subtle ways of saying, "I’m not satisfied with who you are." Ouch.
In other cases, one partner might make fun of the other’s heath regimen because he or she feels intimidated by it. “Negative attitudes towards a partner’s eating and exercise habits can also be self-protection strategies,” says University of Minnesota’s Professor of Family Social Science, Bill Doherty. We may tease a partner about a gym routine because it makes us feel less bad for never showing up to spin class.
Luckily, we’ve got some advice. Read on for some of the most common health-related relationship problems — and how to deal.
Talk Healthy To Me — When Health Habits Diverge
In any romantic relationship, it’s important to discuss differences in health habits to avoid some serious conflict Food choices among newly married couples: convergence, conflict, individualism, and projects. Bove, C.F., Sobal, J., Rauschenbach, B.S. Division of Nutritional Sciences, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY. Appetite. 2003 Feb;40(1):25-41.. Here are some talking points to help you look closer at what’s really going on when conflicting health and fitness goals get in the way of relationship satisfaction.
If you’re pissed that your partner can’t keep up with your fitness and health routine: Tell him/her you’re feeling held back. If your mate gets fussy when you pop out of bed for that morning jog, express your emotions and lend a listening ear over some post-run stretches. Make constructive suggestions: Maybe your partner wants to try joining you once a week for an early workout.
If a partner’s health or fitness goals make you feel bad: Be honest. Tell him/her you’re feeling left out or self-conscious. ("I feel guilty for not going to the gym as often as you do.") But Doherty says sometimes it’s really not you, it’s them. If your partner actually puts you down for not following his/her gym schedule, they may be the ones with the bigger problem. Seeing a couples or individual therapist might help resolve the issue.
If a partner pressures you to change your healthy lifestyle: Calmly tell your partner what you will and will not compromise on (e.g. midnight weight-lifting sessions, yes; morning runs, no). Most important, don’t let it stop you from enjoying your healthy lifestyle, Turndorf says. If you think you may be using a certain activity to push your partner away, explore why — either with your partner, a friend or family member, or a therapist.
If neither party is willing to budge, or even discuss lifestyle conflicts, it may be time to call it quits. But if both partners are willing to honestly examine what’s underlying their attitudes, they’ll likely establish a much stronger bond.
Special thanks to Dr. Jamie Turndorf, Bill Doherty, Lara Kammrath, Michelle vanDellen, Benjamin F. Armstrong III, Marilyn Freimuth, and Eli Finkel for their guidance on and contributions to this article.
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