It’s often hard to say no to one more chip, one more cookie or whatever your guilty food pleasure might be. Ninety percent of U.S. adults have a poor lifestyle due to smoking, lack of exercise, lack of maintaining a healthy weight and a poor diet. Dr. Thomas Bradbury, a psychology professor and co-director of the Relationship Institute at UCLA, shed some important insights on effective ways of communicating with our partners in order to have positive impacts on each other.
Bradbury and his research team interviewed and analyzed conversation recordings between 1,000 newlywed couples who expressed a desire to lose weight and exercise more. The research revealed that when couples genuinely tried to have discussions with each other about losing weight, the conversations went astray.
“A reason why conversations oftentimes go awry is because when one partner recognizes that it is time to make a change, the other partner can feel threatened,” Bradbury said in an email.
They discovered that the most common reasons for the couples’ lack of effort and motivation to get healthy were long commutes, demanding jobs, caring for children, and for some, caring for older parents.
The couples had difficulty effectively communicating with each other, due to the fact that weight and one’s appearance are delicate topics. This in turn, made it difficult to address the issue of whether or not they still found each other attractive. For instance, if you tell your partner that they look incredible the way they are, they may actually use that as an excuse to continue on the path of negative habits, such as not exercising and eating right.
“Knowing how to respond when our partner raises a health concern is a real skill, and often it involves waiting until the partner brings it up as a concern, and then asking a sensitive question to keep the conversation moving forward,” Bradbury said.
As social beings, we have the tendency to naturally imitate things that are in our surrounding environment. For instance, we tend to eat just as much food as the very people around us.
“I have interviewed many couples in which one partner became a vegetarian after they started dating, because the other person was a vegetarian. This goes in the opposite direction too: if my partner drinks or does unhealthy things, I will tend to adopt that habit too,” Bradbury said.
Luckily, Bradbury’s research found that couples can take advantage of many strategies to encourage a healthier lifestyle. For example, to ensure that their partner gets exercise, the other partner can volunteer to do some chores. Another way is to make sure that healthy foods are readily available in the home.
According to Dr. Liz Applegate, a senior lecturer in the Department of Nutrition and director of Sports Nutrition for the Intercollegiate Athletics at UC Davis, individual change is often enough to spark change within our partners.
“Oftentimes we make too big of a commitment. Just start out with a change. For example, you can tell yourself that you’re going to walk at least once during your lunch break this week and then meet that goal. When done for six to eight weeks, these small changes become habits,” Applegate said.
Applegate recognizes that trying to change our health habits is often times indeed challenging, but we must motivate ourselves to ensure a healthier lifestyle.
“My research has found that not a lot of adults are going in for check-ups. Just like your car needs to be checked after every 20,000 miles, your body needs a check-up as well,” Applegate said.
Written in hopes to improve communication strategies between couples, Bradbury is also the co-author of the book “Love Me Slender: How Smart Couples Team Up to Lose Weight, Exercise More, and Stay Healthy Together.” You can also visit his YouTube channel for more information.
JASBIR KAUR can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.