My husband and I have been married for 30+ years. In the beginning, I tried to “change” him, and ultimately discovered that I can only change myself. I realize that his life’s experiences are a part of who he is, and as we have different opinions regarding many things, we have agreed that on some topics, we will just disagree. He is a good husband and father.
My problem is that my husband has become very overweight. Even some of our children have mentioned their concern about his weight to me. He doesn’t like to exercise, is always tired, and hasn’t been to a doctor in over 10 years. In the past I have voiced my concern to him that he stops breathing for short periods of time at night, but now I just don’t say anything. His family has a history of diabetes and cancer, but these diseases don’t seem to be a concern to him. My problem is that being intimate with him is not appealing to me. What can I do to voice my concerns to him without him feeling he is being criticized? Is there anything I can do or say that can help him want to be healthier? What can I do to change my own thoughts about him being overweight?
You’re right that addressing this topic is going to be a difficult experience for both of you. You’re also correct that you can’t change his behavior. However, it doesn’t mean that you should stay silent.
You have legitimate concerns about his health, but none of that will matter to him if you don’t have the kind of relationship that can handle something that loaded. The quality of your relationship with your husband will determine how he hears your concerns. Before you figure out what words you’ll use to communicate your concerns, I recommend you take in these considerations.
One of my mentors, Dr. Wally Goddard, once told me that he didn’t feel permission to correct anyone he didn’t love. He said the great surprise was that once he truly felt love for them, he modified the way he approached them. He shared that the motivation came from a place of love instead of irritation. Since you’ve got difficult things to discuss with him, it’s wise to check your motives and make sure you’re approaching him from a place of love and compassion.
I have received feedback from loved ones over the years on a variety of topics. The difference between how I received the feedback from them usually came down the strength of our relationship and how I believed they saw me as a person. When I’ve been able to feel their deep love and concern for me, it’s been much easier to hear.
The fact that he’s ignoring his health and is obese signals a potential addiction to food or an underlying depression. Individuals who struggle with these conditions usually have no idea what kind of impact they’re having on their loved ones and live in a deep state of denial to keep them from their painful reality.
While minor irritations with your spouse’s physical self-care might require more patience and flexibility on your part, a true addiction or severe depression requires something more direct. It is possible to be direct with love and compassion. In fact, not saying something to spare his feelings isn’t love. It’s fear and it may keep him from getting the help he needs.
Cicero, a Roman philosopher, taught the powerful truth that we should “criticize by creation, not by finding fault.” Bringing up your concerns isn’t finding fault. Instead, your inviting him to create a new reality where he isn’t trapped in his self-defeating patterns of neglecting his health and his relationships.
Elder D. Todd Christofferson taught “if we are open to it, needed correction will come in many forms and from many sources. Correction can come through others, especially those who are God-inspired to promote our happiness. Correction, hopefully gentle, can come from one’s spouse.”[i]
Instead of dancing around the issue by gently suggesting you exercise together or eat healthier meals, I encourage you to go straight to the point and let him know that his behavior and lack of self-respect and self-care is not only causing concern for you and the children, but it’s also creating distance between the two of you. Let him know how important he is to everyone and this is an attempt to preserve his life and create more closeness between the two of you.
Even though you recognize he gets to be in charge of his own body, you can still let him know that you would like to be taken seriously and understood. This isn’t criticism about how he should live his life. This is you describing your fears and concerns about the stability and longevity of your most important relationship. Building a relationship strong enough to hear our partner’s deepest fears and worries takes work and time.
These experiences can be jolting to both you and him as you start to discuss the real issue of him numbing and avoiding dealing with difficult emotions or stressors. Encourage him to get into some couples counseling so he can hear and understand what you need to feel close to him again. My guess is that you aren’t pulling away from him just because you’re superficial. You most likely feel ignored and unimportant as he continues to self-destruct. There are bigger issues here to discuss than just his physical size.
Remember to double-check your motives so you can stay with him in love through his denial, ignoring, and rejection. Your desire to see him thrive and connect with you and his family has to be motivated by your loyalty and commitment him. Hopefully he can hear you this time.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday.
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About the Author
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available at www.marriage-recovery.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic and currently serves on the high council of the St. George, Utah young single adult second stake. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.
[i] D. Todd Christofferson, “As Many as I Love, I Rebuke and Chasten”, Ensign May 2011