So you’re prioritizing your health and wellness. Maybe you’ve perfected your fitness routine or you’re finally crushing the healthy meal-prep game. Perhaps you’ve stepped up your mindfulness practice and you’re starting to see that meditation really is worth the hype. However you define a healthy lifestyle, you’re living it. But your partner, well, is not. While you’ve been out finding your best self, they’ve been on the couch with Netflix and Ben & Jerry’s. No shame in their game (we love a Netflix and chill night as much as everyone else), but if you put a lot of effort into being healthier and happier while your partner doesn’t have the same priorities, it could lead to disconnection and, eventually, worry or responsibility over their health.
Wellness means different things to different people, and what makes you feel your best might not work for your partner (or anyone else for that matter). But how do you navigate a relationship when your lifestyles start to feel completely different? We chatted with psychotherapist and relationship expert Rachel Wright, LMFT, to get her expert opinion on how to encourage your partner to prioritize their health. For those of us who love a good guide (me!), Wright broke her suggestions down into some easy steps.
1. Try positive reinforcement
While many of us go to negative reinforcement in an attempt to motivate the people we love (i.e. “Why don’t you ever go to the gym?” or “You eat too much fast food”), the outcome is way more shaming than motivating, even if it is coming from good intentions. “It’s proven that negative reinforcement does not work as well as positive reinforcement,” Wright explained. PSA: Telling your partner they never go to the gym or always eat fast food is not going to make them want to start going to the gym or eating less fast food. Instead, tell them that you love how they prioritize time with their friends or their busy career, and they deserve to take time for themselves too, whether it’s going to the gym or going on a walk. Pro tip: Wright suggested using the word “and” rather than “but” because everything that comes before the word “but” sounds inauthentic.
2. Share your new habits (and your results) with them
You’re feeling your best, and you want the person you care about most to join you in your new blissed-out, healthy mindset—duh! When we prioritize ourselves, we feel happier and more energized, so of course you want your significant other to feel as good as you do. To get them to want that too, why not show them what they’re missing? Instead of wasting your energy nagging your partner (which, FYI, might make them feel lesser than instead of motivated), focus on showing them how great you feel. But don’t just tell them how much you love your new workout class; tell them how it has given you more energy, confidence, and strength. Also, make them a part of your healthy life. Cook your favorite plant-based dinner for them or plan a date to go on a hike instead of to the movies. Show your partner how much happier you are and how your life has improved since you started that new habit and how it would feel for them too.
3. Give them context
The key to motivating your partner is to identify what would actually be motivating for them rather than focusing on what motivates you. For example, has your partner been venting to you about feeling a little more anxious lately or have they always been super motivated and driven by their career? When we prioritize health, it not only affects the way we eat, move, and spend our mornings, but it also prioritizes every area of our lives. Having healthy routines can help with feelings of anxiety or help them with productivity and energy so they’re even better at their jobs. Since healthy changes can be incorporated into every part of life, identify what would be their biggest motivator. Why would they want to change their habits to be healthier? Next time they start to complain about something or talk about how they wish they had more time for work, use it as an invitation to tell them why they might benefit from focusing a bit more energy on their own health.
4. Offer a solution
Let’s be honest: We’ve all been in the situation where a healthy habit or lifestyle change feels too overwhelming. Maybe it sounds too difficult to change a habit or you don’t have the time to focus on your health. If your partner feels like they don’t have the time, energy, or capacity to prioritize themselves, offer short, easy, and simple solutions they don’t have to think about. For example, a five-minute meditation, adding leafy greens to meals, or biking to work instead of driving sound like easier, more manageable changes than transforming everything at once or transforming your diet or workout routine.
5. Accept them for who they are
Wright emphasized that while it is great to encourage your partner to be healthier, it is totally possible to have one person be a fitness freak and one person who has never stepped foot in a gym. In other words, you can have different interests while still supporting each other. No matter the passion, interest, or hobby, share it with your significant other without the expectation that you’re going to change who they are. “Part of being a partner is supporting that person in the way that they want to be supported,” Wright said. Know the difference between wanting them to be healthy and wanting them to be as interested or passionate as you are. Encourage them to develop a fitness routine and teach them how to cook healthier meals, but don’t expect them to be a full-on gym rat or go totally plant-based just because you are.