“I remember thinking that she is so selfish. All I want is one hour to squeeze in a run.” This frustration was recently expressed by one of my clients who is diligently trying to up his fitness game. He explained that he often skips out on the gym because his wife gives him attitude for leaving her alone with the kids for a couple of hours. I’ve had other clients, both men and women, share similar frustrations. Stories about their partners’ consistent conscious or subconscious sabotage of their efforts around nutrition, exercise habits and sleep.
Why the Sabotage?
Couples tend get in the way of each another’s self-care efforts for a myriad of reasons. Here are three reasons why this may be happening in your relationship:
- Values – Your partner doesn’t place the same level of value on self-care activities such as exercise, eating healthy and quality sleep.
- Needs – Your efforts at taking care of yourself are perceived as selfish by your partner because your self-care interferes with their needs in some way (i.e. being left alone to take care of the kids while you go to the gym).
- Sense of Self – Your self-care efforts may affect your partner’s sense of self. Your partner may have a more negative sense of self if they are constantly comparing themselves to your level of self-care.
Ways You Can Break the Cycle of Sabotage
When you haven’t slept a wink the night before and the kids are whining for attention, it is hard, if not impossible to take a deep breath and encourage your partner to go for a one hour bike ride, run or gym visit. This may not even be in the cards. But, there are healthy, compromising ways that couples can work together to support one another in developing a healthier lifestyle.
A good place to start is values. Collaborate on a deeper exploration of each other’s values regarding fitness, healthy eating, drinking alcohol, sleeping and social connections. Most likely, you and your partner will not completely align. That is not important. More important is identifying and understanding your similarities and differences regarding exercise, sleeping, eating and socializing. Once you identify your similarities and differences you can determine strategies that support and respect each other’s needs.
Core beliefs is another area that is helpful to explore. Couples may have distorted beliefs regarding self-care that are not helpful in sustaining each other’s healthy lifestyle. For instance, one of my clients admitted she would become enraged when her husband would insist on taking time for a run, particularly on the weekends. When we explored her anger in more depth, we uncovered the painful memory of her father who would go on runs to secretly meet his lover. This is an extreme case, but often our experiences of the past can inform and distort our feelings of the present. Working on developing a more positive and accepting view of each other’s self-care activities can only benefit both of you in the long run.
Couples should also evaluate how their own sense of self is affected when their partner is focused on their own health. Do you feel guilty and bad about yourself when your partner exercises, chooses the salad instead of the burger or drinks a soda water instead of a beer? If you answered yes, these negative feelings are more about you than your partners’ self-care efforts. Identify these feelings as your own psychological stuff, NOT your partner trying to make you feel this way. Taking responsibility for your own feelings will free you to shift into a more productive thought pattern and, possibly, help you consider self-care methods that work for you.
One of my favorite pieces of advice that I like to share with my clients, family and friends comes from a section of the familiar airline safety script announcement. “If you are traveling with a child or someone who requires assistance, secure your mask on first, and then assist the other person.” Makes sense not only in the air but in life as well! On the plane, if you don’t put your mask on first you may be dead before you can help anyone else. And so, the same goes with self-care. A partner who takes personal responsibility for their own well-being will ultimately be more physically and emotionally available for a healthy, loving relationship.