Valentine’s Day is upon us, and with it comes the boxes of chocolates, the pink-frosted cupcakes, the bottles of champagne. Sometimes it seems like just being in a committed relationship can be hazardous to your health. It can work the other way, though: your partner can help you get fit.
A reader could be forgiven for mistaking Love Me Slender (Touchstone, February) for just another diet or weight-loss book. The authors, however—Thomas N. Bradbury, PhD and Benjamin R. Karney, PhD—are experts on relationships and marriage, not diet or exercise, and the book reflects the depth of their knowledge.
The premise of the book (that couples can team up to more effectively adopt healthy habits) is based on extensive research. According to the authors, “When one partner starts to walk more or cut back on sweets, or gets a flu shot, then the other partner is more likely to do the same.” It makes sense, of course, that our habits would be influenced by the habits of those around us. Beyond that, “Several large, nationally representative studies now show that husbands and wives are remarkably similar on various dimensions of cardiovascular health, such as their body mass index (BMI), their waist circumference, and the percent of their calories that come from fats.”
Knowing that your habits are influenced by your relationship is only the first step. It’s all well and good to recognize, for example, that you and your partner overindulge in desserts together, or opt for watching television instead of taking a long walk. But if you two actually want to team up and change those habits, Love Me Slender can tell you how.
How can your relationship impact your health?
Part I of the book helps you to understand how your relationship can both positively and negatively impact your ability to make changes to your exercise and eating habits. The book includes assessments you and your partner can use to evaluate your relationship and the ways you communicate about your goals. For example, do you agree or disagree with the statement, “We think of ourselves as part of a team when it comes to improving our health and habits”? Along with statements like this that encourage personal reflection, the book includes transcripts from the many couples involved in the research, so you can see how other couples communicate about their fitness and weight-loss goals.
Disengagers, Taskmasters, and Demanders.
Part II of the book contains information about the roles within a relationship that couples adopt, particularly surrounding issues of healthy eating. For example, someone who denies that he has any effect whatsoever on his partner’s eating habits is a disengager. A taskmaster, on the other hand, assumes too much influence, trying to force his partner to change. Finally, a demander is someone eager to change her eating habits who is hoping her partner will swoop in and take control of the situation. (These roles are not gender specific, and the book details just as many men trying to change their habits and lose weight as women. There are no homosexual couples profiled, something the authors acknowledge.) According to the research, none of these approaches will yield positive changes; instead success depends upon the Theory of Mutual Influence: you can impact your partner’s choices, but changing eating habits is something you must work on together.
The Outsourcer, the Tag-Along, and the Lone Wolf.
Just as our eating habits are influenced by our partners, “as we get older, the decision to exercise becomes more closely tied to our relationships.” There are also, not surprisingly, a variety of approaches that can make incorporating exercise into your daily life and relationship more difficult. Are you an outsourcer, who is only interested in exercise if your partner will do it with you, or a tag-along who insists that your partner should only be exercising if and when you can join him? Or are you a lone wolf, unwilling to modify your exercise routines to help motivate your partner? Part III of the book contains more self assessments, with statements like “We strike a balance between sharing physical activities together and granting each other space to exercise alone” to help you figure it out.
While the focus of Love Me Slender is certainly on how to develop healthier eating and exercise habits, the book offers so much more. In its detailed analysis of how real couples communicate about these difficult issues, the book offers insights into how to improve your relationship, whether you are looking to lose weight or not.
Chocolate: CoCreatr, http://www.flickr.com/photos/cocreatr/
Author photo: Timothy Bradbury
Couples Exercising: www.fitnesschris.com