6 Ways to Motivate Your Partner to Prioritize Their Health

By Joy Manning |

Starting new health behaviors takes planning — and a light touch.

Senior Black couple riding bikes together

Maybe your partner has replaced weekend runs with streaming marathons. Or maybe they’ve skipped a couple of years’ worth of checkups or parted ways with green vegetables. And maybe you haven’t said much, but you’ve been pretty worried.

You may have promised to love each other in sickness and health, but you’re hoping for more health than sickness — and it’s hard to watch your partner neglect their well-being. After all, you want to enjoy your life together.

Plus, their unhealthy habits could be affecting your health, too, A landmark Harvard study evaluating more than 12,000 people found that when one spouse was obese, the other’s chances of becoming obese increased by 37 percent. So there’s a good chance that their nightly ice-cream ritual is making you gain weight, too. And that’s not good for either of you.

Eager to broach the subject but not sure how? It can be touchy to ask someone you love to change their ways, so your best approach is one that’s gentle and supportive.

“Love and respect usually make cooperation easier,” says Tina Tessina, Ph.D., a licensed marriage and family therapist in Southern California. “Take some time to remind yourself of all the good and valuable aspects of your relationship, and then share them with your partner. Tell your partner you believe that better health care will enhance your love and your lives.”

Here are some expert-approved tips to motivate your partner — and reassure them that you care. After all, when they’re happy and healthy, you’re happy and healthy, too.

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1. Find the Right Time

The problem: Starting a conversation when the washer is overflowing or company is on the way is never a good idea. Make a plan before you speak. Don’t blurt out all your concerns and frustrations the minute they pop into your head and hope for a positive response.

Try this:  Some couples prefer discussing serious issues in the quiet and calm of the evening, while others would rather talk it out over coffee on Sunday morning. Think about what’s worked best for you in the past and let experience guide you.

“Choose a moment when you feel strong, and you and your partner have some peaceful, uninterrupted time,” says Tessina. “Your goal is to be thoughtful, calm, and rational, even if your partner is aggravating, dismissive, or childish in his or her responses.”

2. Choose Your Words Carefully 

The problem:  It’s easy to be critical. Your concerns are serious, so it feels natural to say things like You should eat better or You really need to go to the dentist. Those things may be true — and your partner may know it — but they probably won’t receive the message well. It puts them on the defensive and makes them feel like you’re blaming them.

Try this: Rather than making “You” statements, try “I” statements — that’s a way of communicating that puts the focus on your feelings and off your partner’s behaviors. For example, saying I feel worried when you miss medical appointments — I want us both to stay healthy for our weekend hikes will likely get a better response than saying If you keep skipping your medical appointments, you won’t even be able to walk around the block.

3. Listen More Than You Talk

The problem: Everyone wants to feel good and be healthy. They may not really know why they’re behaving in a way that hurts their well-being.

There may be lots of things going on, from fear of a serious diagnosis to the loss of control they may experience at the doctor’s office. Sometimes issues relating to the body and health are sensitive and hard to be open and honest about. You can help by becoming an active listener.

Try this: “Try to understand your partner’s resistance,” says Tessina. Ask your partner questions about why they’re reluctant to take better care of themselves. “What you learn will make the difference for your success.”

4. Find Creative Solutions

The problem: You have a rigid idea about what your partner should be doing, which gives your partner plenty of room to fall short of your expectations. That could lead to a sense of failure, and even to hurt feelings. Instead, says Tessina, “Explain the benefits of healthier habits as your partner would perceive them.”

Try this: Be flexible and willing to meet your partner where they are. That can go a long way toward making you both happier and healthier. If you want them to exercise more, you could point out that it will make it easier for them to do something they enjoy, like Pickleball or golf. Or mention the positive impact of exercise on their heart health.

And bring in all your creative problem-solving skills. Suppose your partner says yes to more physical activity but no to the gym. Look through the SilverSneakers LIVE online class menu to find workouts you could do together, or pick an outdoor activity your partner can learn to love.

You can find creative solutions to almost any obstacle to behavior change. Looking to shift to a plant-based diet but your partner’s not on board? See if they’ll go for two vegetarian dinners a week. Looking to get them back into the dentist’s chair? They might agree to go yearly but not every six months — a big improvement over not going at all.

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5. Be Open to Change

The problem: Sometimes it’s fear that keeps a person from prioritizing their health, says Tessina. If you think your partner is depressed and want them to try therapy, for example, the main obstacle could be fear of the unknown or fear of being judged.

That fear seems to be hard-wired into our brains. In one study, participants played a computer game that asked them to turn over rocks that might have snakes underneath — then received a painful electric shock when the snakes crawled out. With no idea when the shocks would be coming, their stress levels skyrocketed — proof of the powerful connection between uncertainty and stress. It’s no wonder your partner may be worried about trying something new.

Try this: Offer support in the form of gentle, ongoing encouragement. “You may need to reassure your partner many times because you are asking for change, and change is unsettling and produces anxiety,” says Tessina. “Unwillingness to make changes almost always indicates fear of the outcome.”

Remember: The simple act of trying something new activates dopamine networks in the brain. Those are the chemicals that make you feel good and help you learn new things.  All the more reason to try new healthy behaviors.

6. Practice What You Preach

The problem: In every couple, there’s usually one person who takes the healthy-living lead. A study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine found that people were more successful at quitting bad habits like smoking when their partner did so as well. And a 2021 study that followed more than 5,000 couples over 12 years found that when one partner set the example, the other was more likely to eat more fruits and vegetables and get more physical activity.

Try this: If you want your partner to get annual checkups, make sure you always get yours. And if possible, make your appointment for the same time — your partner may appreciate the moral support! If you want them to engage in physical activity three times a week, you should get moving and invite them along.

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