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I’m not a personal trainer, but I play one in my marriage

Who looks happier to be on this hike?

Help a stuck wife out. How do you make your spouse care as much about maintaining a healthy body as you care about your own?

To be honest, I might think about the health of my loved ones way more than necessary. I am particularly health-centric as I’ve had some serious trials and tribulations with my body. So as not to get lost in the topsy-turvy world of medical advice, insurance, and medical providers who don’t always communicate with each other, I’ve had to become an expert on my body and a cape-wearing super-hero advocate for myself. I am an active participant in my own physical well-being. And I do not understand why some loved ones don’t fight for their own right to live a long healthy life.

The older I’ve grown with Jim, the less I feel he’s connecting with his own body. Let’s start with diet. He’ll eat just about anything he’s offered. That’s why I spend hours every week putting together his breakfasts, lunches and dinners. Otherwise, it’d be pizza and deep-fried Thai food. I’m pretty sure Jim thinks if there is a vegetable involved in a meal, it’s healthy — regardless if it’s steamed broccoli or tempura battered sweet potatoes. I believe he understands the fundamentals of nutrition, he just chooses to forget them when it’s convenient.

And even more of a concern for me: he rarely exercises anymore. I’m not proud of myself but I’ve become so desperate to have my rugged and active man back that I’ve invented a formula to get him off the couch: brow-beating and sexual favors. Even then, he doesn’t really challenge himself the way he used to. Now, he mainly hits the Wii to Super Hula Hoop for 6 minutes. Seriously though, I don’t care what physical activity he chooses, as long as he enjoys it and makes it a habit.

When we met, we both were avid cyclists and hikers. Tough outdoors people. I loved that he actually cooked and ate much like I did: whole, healthy foods. He commuted year-round by bicycle, just like me. Over the years however, our roads diverged: With me getting more into fitness and health, and Jim taking a backseat to his own body’s aging and healing processes.

I am sick and tired of my husband getting sick and tired. A lot of it is fear. I want my fabulous Jim to stay vital and energetic for as long as possible, with a healthy body and mind. Jack Lalanne’s passing this week at 96-years young made me wish Jim would slip on a short-sleeved leisure suit and drop and give me 20. I wish I could get him excited and motivated to sweat.

I know as we age, our bodies need more rest. More compassion. Our needs change. I really do respect that. I’m not asking him to train for American Gladiators. But, I do think if we lose momentum, it becomes so much harder to get healthy as we hit each new decade. One of my favorite yoga teachers (in his mid-60s) always says, “If you rest, you rust.” I believe that. But will I ever convince Jim? Or should I just learn to let him be?

I really would love to hear your words of wisdom — how have you encouraged your partners out of the time-worn butt-indentations on the recliner? Or…how have you taught yourself to let go of the responsibility you feel to keep them alive?

Your comments

  1. Marianne says:

    You are not going to want to hear this, but…I think you need to stop brow-beating Jim into healthy habits. You already know this, but it bears repeating, you can only change yourself.

    I know that you mean well, but you run the risk of creating a lot of tension in your marriage over this and he probably won’t change based on you asking him to anyway. Continue being an example and he may well follow you into a healthier lifestyle. Frequently, acceptance about someone will create more change than brow-beating them.

    • Robyn Okrant says:

      ok. i am hearing you. and i actually am exaggerating the brow-beating :) but i definitely cajole and bribe and beg.

      i’ll try to let go.

  2. cathleen says:

    I fall off the exercise wagon repeatedly. I can tell you that I don’t respond to someone else wanting me to exercise. I will go when I go, and I do. But sometimes I don’t. But it’ my journey and I have to do the heavy lifting – emotionally and physically.
    When my mind and body team up to kick my ass to the gym, then I listen. Jim will too.

    • Robyn Okrant says:

      but you know there’s a wagon. i’m not sure jim’s aware.

      still. i hear your msg loud and clear.

      • Nicky says:

        Jim knows there’s a wagon. He has been on the wagon. He just happens to be behind the wagon, on the ground, right now.
        You know this: you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it f*** a fish.
        Love Jim, for Jim – as he is, right now. He may change. He may not. Keep taking care of you because it makes YOU happy. Let Jim take care of Jim. Th-th-that’s all, m’dear. XO

        • Robyn Okrant says:

          Nic, I wish I could relax about it. I’m so worried about all his family history with illnesses that could have been prevented by eating well and exercising. I suppose because I see him on the same path, I’m terrified of what our future holds. BUT YOU ARE RIGHT…I can’t stop taking care of myself in order to fret. That’s sort of what I’m doing right now. x

  3. MemeGRL says:

    I’m the “Jim” in our marriage, except I never had the healthy lifestyle to begin with (my mom was allergic to bees, my dad to pollen–I had a very indoorsy childhood). Keep packing the lunches. And the more interesting the activities maybe the more motivated he’ll be.
    Of course, my husband broke his ankle, badly, playing soccer with friends, so I am not a fan of “lifelong sports” right now…

    • Robyn Okrant says:

      Hey! I think you’re right…model the behavior, rather than enforce it. And you are right on…I’ll try to keep things interesting. Thank you SO much.

  4. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Cathleen Carr, Ready, Set…Wife! and Ready, Set…Wife!, Ready, Set…Wife!. Ready, Set…Wife! said: Help me get my husband's butt off the couch! [...]

  5. Krista says:

    I understand the feeling Robyn. While I am not the picture of health myself – I do want both of us to be healthy – and work together on our unhealthyness. My Jim is totally a great cheerleader on my progress, but I wish he would work out with me.

    However, I realize that I don’t react well to bullying, so I know he won’t either.

    • Robyn Okrant says:

      Krista, I think because I’m having a hard time getting myself motivated these days, I somehow feel the need to have him excited about exercise. Wow, that sounds nuts. I feel like it’d be less of a chore if we did it together.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I also would totally rebel if I felt bullied. I’ll make sure I’m careful :)

  6. tif says:

    i’m having the SAME problem right now lady.

    please don’t listen to any of these crazy pants people who say “you can only change yourself” stuff with our men. it’s our DUTY as wives to maintain the happiness and health of our beloved partner. if you were emotionally hurting yourself because you were unhappy, is it just then okay for him to say, “stop that robyn, just stop it.” and not do anything about it? not be proactive about a change for you?

    it’s not like he was never a physical person and you’re trying to make him into something he’s not. that’s the thing. you’re encouraging him to get back to his old self. the more active, healthier, happier one. it’s encouragement, not trying to mold him into a robot!

    you are i are both freaks about health and when we do our best to maintain our insides, we find it a collective duty to have our spouses not only encourage us to be the best person ever, but to also join in to support that aspect of the other person’s life.

    if my partner really wanted to get into an activity and wanted to do it as a pair (even if i didn’t want to do it), i’d do it. i’d want to find a way to make that activity fun for me.

    whatever. it’s so much more difficult for us to have to maintain our lives. i wish for the life where i can open a bag or put anything, even a handful of dirt, directly into my mouth with zero health concerns, shame, or guilt. that is a life that they get to live…while my husband eats almost (alllmost) what i eat when he eats with me, when he’s not with me he eats whatever the hell he wants…i make suggestions. but if his morning bagel and cream cheese put me as a single lady at 50 because he can’t give up the unhealthy stuff, that becomes a problem for me…

    i know your boat baby, and i’ll paddle that canoe with you with our hubbies towing in the tug boat behind.

    • Robyn Okrant says:

      Tif, yes. YES. This is what I am saying. And I am trying so hard to keep a healthy distance. But at the same time, I think it’s negligent of me NOT to try to keep him from the heart disease, diabetes, cancer, etc that plagues his family history. Do you think our own fixation with our health (due to our multitude of problems with it) makes us total pains in the ass?! I love you, robyn

  7. Paula says:

    The subtext of your message to Jim is that he is not “all he can be” when, in fact, he is that and more. Continue to feed him well out of love, not because it is medicinal, continue your own journey of fitness. Only God knows the number of our days, and love is never wasted. As the ex-wife of someone with chronic illnesses, and I’m not saying this to make you feel guilty or bad or anything, the stress on the other partner is incredible in an emotional and mental sense. He can see that all the fitness and health regimes in the world, beneficial as they are, did not prevent you from contracting a devastating illness that most likely has him truly frightened and probably a little depressed. (sorry, Jim, for giving my interpretation of your feelings, but I’ve been in your shoes). So, why not enjoy life as best you can without seeking a perfection that doesn’t exist?

    • Robyn Okrant says:

      Paula, I don’t expect physical perfection! But for him NOT to follow his doctor’s orders for diet and exercise makes me really worried. I’m certainly not withholding my love from him. But when a clear path has been laid before him by medical professionals…and for him to ignore it, I have a super hard time following the old “live and let live” addadge! I’m trying to keep more distance though. I promise. xorobyn

      • Paula says:

        Does Jim have a dangerous health issue threatening him? Or is it what doctors always say, eat less and exercise more, no matter what the complaint? Again, not minimizing any concerns, just putting them in perspective. The current thinking that even 5 pounds more weight is life threatening really is questionable science. The weight loss industry has subsidized a lot of the studies that have yielded results like this. His body and health is his responsibility.

        • Robyn Okrant says:

          Hiya P! Well, as much as I wanna spill, I’m not entirely comfy discussing Jim’s health without asking him. But, I’ll just say he’s had enough warning signs that the doctor has recommended certain lifestyle adjustments.

  8. Amy L says:

    Hi, I have been in Jim’s shoes and wished that the spouse would have ENCOURAGED me to exercise with him. But it didn’t happen after we got married. Now divorced, I exercise again. “Get out of the cage,” is the advice I heard a few weeks ago. This meant that another person’s disease or path is not necessarily our cross to bear. The worry can eat you alive. My Mom has helped Dad by making healthier meals and sometimes walking with him. We can only do so much.

    • Robyn Okrant says:

      Amy, thank you so much for your comment — I think you’re right — I cook for him and I try to encourage him when he does do any exercise…but how much more can I do? Also, when he’s at his least motivated, it sucks my energy and I’m less likely to exercise.

      Get out of the cage. Brill. Love that phrase. I’m gonna borrow it, if you don’t mind! x

  9. Tough Love says:

    My husband didn’t start improving until I quit nagging, which I didn’t stop doing for the first 12 years. I feel much better not nagging, but every so often I still break out and do it in a major way. He takes criticism better than anyone I’ve ever seen, but basically, he knows what’s right and it’s up to him to change. I try to see it from his perspective. He is a much calmer person than I am, and so much of health is good genes and mental outlook. (He never gets ruffled by a crisis, and always has the right attitude. I freak out and hit the panic button.) Gradually I have had an effect physically, just by being my super-exercising, broccoli-for-breakfast self. It doesn’t work to cook for him; he prefers making his own meal, and he’s great at it, so I rarely do it. You’ve got a lot going already, given that he eats what you cook!

    • Robyn Okrant says:

      I’m really hearing you — that letting go and living by example might be the best thing. I think I’m such a “do-er” an action-based woman, that it’s hard for me to let go. I appreciate that you took time to share your thoughts and your experience!!