A few weeks ago, my husband Bernie came home from a routine checkup and reported the doctor’s findings and subsequent warnings. I listened, and chills slid up and down my body.
“You are at serious risk for heart issues as well as diabetes,” Dr. S. intoned. “I strongly suggest you modify your diet and start an exercise regimen immediately. And come back to see me in three months.”
I gulped and looked at Bernie, askance. He may be touching 70, but I’m not ready to lose him yet.
Bernie sighed, picked himself up, and began helping himself to some fudge ripple ice cream.
“Bernie, NO!” I lunged toward him and grabbed the offending container out of his hands. “This is pure poison. Here, honey, have an apple and a nice, refreshing glass of water.”
Holding the ice cream in a bear hug, I unceremoniously dumped the entire box in the garbage, burying it under wads of food as a deterrent.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Bernie demanded, his eyes narrowed into cat-like slits. “A guy’s gotta enjoy life, y’know.”
“But … but … the doctor said …”
“He didn’t say I can never have anything I like again. He said to modify. But to take away my food?”
With that, my husband of four plus decades swiveled around and stomped into the family room to watch TV. I sighed. We almost never fight. Did I make a mistake? Come on too strong? But who’s going to take care of him if not me?
Since then, I’ve tried to tone down my reactions when I see him indulging. But I’m feeling really frightened and don’t know what to do. Not only am I constantly catching him eating things he shouldn’t, but he also hasn’t started any serious type of exercise other than walking to the kitchen to raid the refrigerator and pantry.
Oh, and did I mention that heart problems as well as diabetes run in his family?
Do I throw out all our snacks that we keep on hand for the grandkids?
Doesn’t he realize that if he gets sick, it will affect me, too? Why doesn’t he care enough about me to make some changes?
Any suggestions, Rachel?
A Concerned Wife
Dear Concerned Wife,
We all worry about our loved ones, especially when they engage in unhealthy habits. It’s intensely difficult to watch your husband hurt himself, and, by extension, you. So, what can you do?
First, I would advise you to figuratively remove yourself from the picture (I know, I know, easier said than done). Of course, he cares about you! It’s simply incredibly challenging to overturn the pleasurable habits accrued over a lifetime.
Dear wife, you cannot put an adult on a diet, nor can you force him to exercise or do almost anything that he doesn’t want to do. As all of us who have ever worked on kicking a habit know: In order to make any significant and lasting change, it has to come from within. No one can do it for us.
Perhaps, what may help is to show Bernie how much you care. Can you tell him, “I’ve been thinking about what the doctor mentioned. Is there anything I can do to help? It must be overwhelming to think about giving up things you’ve always enjoyed. And you’ve never been into exercise. Starting now must seem like such a challenge!”
You may be surprised at Bernie’s response. When a person feels validated and understood, he is usually more receptive. And who knows? Maybe your display of compassion and validation will segue into a productive give and take regarding some beneficial lifestyle changes that he will welcome and even enjoy.
Kudos to you for being a concerned wife. I wish you the best of luck in walking alongside your partner for many healthy years to come.
All the best,