Carolyn Hax: Getting a reluctant spouse to exercise, lose weight

Carolyn Hax
Columnist August 22, 2013

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

Please help me to get my wife to exercise and lose weight before she has a heart attack. My wife of 20 years is 5 feet 2 and approximately 170 pounds. Her weight is mostly in the dangerous stomach area. She used to be quite athletic, but no matter what I try to interest her in, whether walks, bike rides, etc., she usually replies, “Next week.” She is on several medications for high blood pressure.

I love her so very much, but I have no idea what I can do to help her. The times I have mentioned a diet we could do together, and how I am worried about her health, have ended up with her becoming angry and defensive. There seems to be a sort of hurdle she can’t get over to begin helping herself.

I know she reads your column and respects your advice. I find her as beautiful as the day we met years ago, but I am so worried she is killing herself with inactivity and food.


(Nick Galifianakis/The Washington Post)

Worried

This is the answer no one wants to hear, but your wife has chosen this path, and you cannot force her off it, even when you have reason to believe it’s hurtling her toward a premature death.

There are things you can try, of course, and it sounds as if you’ve tried them all, for all the right reasons — promoting exercise-related couple time and eating better together are the two best, for sure. Yet even they take you no further than the line where it becomes her choice.

The best (and of course worst) thing I can advise is to accept that this is her path, and to find whatever way possible to enjoy your time with her as-is. If indeed she does shorten her life with her choices, then you won’t want your last X years with her to have been a continuous argument about diet and exercise.

Re: Worried:

I wouldn’t want to go exercise with my husband if the reason was he thought I was out of shape. If the reason was that he liked my company, or there were interesting things to see on the walk, then I wouldn’t want to miss out.

I think it’s how you frame it. I exercise because I want to go on an adventure. The fact that it helps me lose weight is something I try not to think about because I have found it just puts a layer of anxiety on an otherwise fun activity.

Anonymous

Fair enough, but there’s a point at which we’re asking way too much of our loved ones, in expecting them to serve us their feelings in the one perfectly shaped and flavored form that we’re willing to find palatable.

Worrying about your health is caring about your company, since the person wants you to live. Isn’t it better for both of you just to set aside your huffies and go for the damn walk?

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Sign up for Carolyn Hax’s column, delivered to your inbox early each morning, at http://bit.ly/haxpost.

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