Health Issues Strain their Relationship

Visitor's Question from a 21-30 year old Male
My wife of three years is developing health problems resulting from poor diet and exercise habits. During those three years I have become very careful about my diet, exercise and rest habits. Although I started these habits to get over a bout of illness, I now hold them to be the sworn duty of my marital oath in order to be the best husband I can be for my wife. I have watched friends and loved ones let themselves go, develop health problems, and then do nothing about them but complain or get hooked on prescription drugs. Some have died. Now with her own parents suffering old age maladies before they're even 50, my thoughts turn to my wife, who is beginning to have problems getting around and has some symptoms that indicate susceptibility to heart disease.

It pains me to think that every loving gesture I have poured into her could vanish with her in the event of her early death. I imagine it will feel like the Louvre caretaker watching a priceless work of art in his care go up in smoke. We've talked about this on several occasions and are seeing a marriage counselor. Although my wife cares about me deeply and wants to change, she just doesn't want it badly enough to do anything about it. Barring my own untimely death, I foresee a life of growing frustration, watching her wither away with the keys to good health dangling just out of reach. I refuse to renege on my vow; I grabbed the One Ring, now I have to go to Mordor. Nor can I withdraw my love, that is the coward's way. But how can I possibly cope? Advice
You need to think about taking care of yourself as a continuum - it's not that you're taking "good care" of yourself and she's taking "bad care" of herself. Yes, you are trying to eat well and exercise, but as you know, most adults just don't have the willpower to do those things. Your wife seems to be one of those adults. There are many adults out there that are more into exercise and healthy eating than you are and would be horrified at the things you eat, and there are many adults out there that are far more out of shape and eat far worse things than your wife. So it's all a matter of what viewpoint you look at things from.

You need to accept that people don't change. You can want your wife to do X and Y and believe strongly that it's in her best interest. But millions of spouses of smokers can tell you that no matter how much you try to pressure, cajole, yell or plead with someone, they won't just "change" even when it's in their own best interest.

Who knows, your wife may manage to outlive many healthy people because she has good genes, or because she is less stressed than others, or even because her jogging friends are hit by a car while she's safely at home. You never know in life. But I do know if you insist she change the way she is, it's going to lead to unhappiness for both of you. A key in marriage is to accept each other *for better or for worse* and be happy with the time you have together.

All of that being said, having dealt with unhealthily eating partners myself, the key is not to be a "mommy" (or daddy) about it and just to be yourself. Don't harass her about her eating or exercise. But instead, learn how to cook! Start doing the cooking for the family, and cook YUMMY but healthy things. Do the shopping, and put lots of YUMMY but healthy snacks in the fridge. This shouldn't be a punishment. There are thousands of very delicious food items that also happen to be healthy. So be proactive and get them. If they're there in front of her, she'll probably eat them. Whenever you're sitting doing something, get her a glass of water, and yourself too. If it's there, she'll probably drink it. Don't say "I'm forcing you to eat healthily." Just say "Tonight, I'm making eggplant parm!"

Same for exercise. Don't say "Today we do 80 pushups." Say "I want to go for a walk down by the pond, why not come with me?" Get her a cool camera and encourage her to take photos on her walks, and use them as screensavers to show her how much you love them. Enthuse about her photos to friends. Once walking is easy for her, move up to bike rides to interesting places. Don't just force her to "go do sit-ups." Say "I want to have some fun, let's go walk on the nature trail."

-- from Jenn
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