How Not to Ruin Your Relationship: A Quick Guide for Couples and Fitness

There is a fine line between pushing each other towards a fitness goal and pushing each other towards the open arms of another lover.  Couple’s tend to struggle most when there is a gap in weight or physical fitness levels between the two partners.  All too often, couples find it incredibly frustrating to motivate one another in their quest for a healthier lifestyle.  We get angry, upset, jealous, sad, depressed, and discouraged by our partner’s insistence on health or our lack of progress.  We often feel inferior to our spouse, especially if he or she has made substantially more progress than us.

In turn, said spouse can find it difficult to convey their love, appreciation, affection, and encouragement without coming off as disappointed or demanding.  For the most part, we all want to be better for our significant other physically, mentally, and emotionally.  The physical part seems to be the hardest portion to nail down.  Our society places so much emphasis on our outside appearance that we, not only feel pressure from the outside world, but also from the person we love most in it.

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I have had my fair share of knock-down, drag out brawls with my girlfriend over the concept of health and fitness.  I have experienced the helplessness and frustration of attempting to instill my drive, motivation, and knowledge of physical fitness in her.  Often times, we have argued over exercises at the gym, fought over our meal choices, and thrown our fair share of metaphorical punches while setting goals for each other.  I would spend hours cultivating new ways to communicate my feelings and intentions, but I continually came up short.  Every plausible solution I attempted created more anger, resentment, and caused a breakdown of communication. I simply could not understand why she didn’t grasp how much I wanted to help or how hard I was working to make her fitness dreams a reality.  I blamed her for not understanding, for not wanting to follow directions, and for always battling me on the concepts that I knew to be true.  I imagined shaking sense into her and screaming at the top of my lungs, “JUST LISTEN TO ME!”

Obviously, this bared no fruit.  I had been approaching the problem with the wrong perspective and the wrong agenda.  I was attempting to force her to find “my fitness”.  I had forgotten the years of consistent training, countless hours spent on health research, and the many, many failures that helped me define my drive.  I also realized that I have a deep passion for how the body works and how best to shape it.  I wanted to fast track her fitness and clone myself in a matter of days.  I was coming off as brutish, disappointed, and impatient.  I had complete tunnel vision.

I was treating her as if she were a regular client not the love of my life.  My clients do not have a vested interest in my happiness.  They are trying to change their physical life to be better for their own motivations, not for my approval.  All my girlfriend wanted was to make me proud and feel good about herself.  Yet, there I was attempting to train her like she was any other person.

There is a particular strain that can be put on a relationship when it comes to physical health and appearance. We want to impress our lover with an amazing body. We yearn for his or her approval. We need to feel confident that we are the only thing that he or she is looking at. If, at any time, these desires and needs do not get fulfilled, we become self-loathing creatures. This sadness and sour attitude bleeds into our work, our social life, and our relationships like poison. It infects our conversations and mental attitudes. If left untreated, these feelings will calcify and become a part of our mentality. This has ruined more than a few relationships and I would be damned if I let it happen to mine.

I forced myself to refocus my messages and rethink my communication.  I observed that, often times, my words were misconstrued and digested by her brain the complete opposite way that I meant them.  If I asked, “Have you hit the gym yet?”, she was hearing, “Why haven’t you worked out already?  How can you be this lazy?  I thought you loved me?”  All I wanted to know is if she had already worked out so I can structure my afternoon.  This simple disconnect in communication is linked to her thoughts, feelings, and emotions towards me, as well as her own self-confidence and perceived fitness level.  She is effectively projecting her insecurities onto my words, which creates a poisonous potion of disaster.

This happens with all relationships all over the world.  Both parties are at fault but the responsibility rests on the partner wishing to instill change in the relationship and lifestyle.  We must alter our communication to avoid accidental offenses and breed an environment of encouragement.  We must set an example for our loved one, not stand on a pedestal and shout down directions from on high.  We are in this together and we must do our best to support one another through, not just fitness goals, but life in general.

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Here are some tips and tricks to help you convey support, affection, and motivation to your significant other, that can prevent having to change your relationship status on Facebook:

1. Never Force Anything:  If your partner doesn’t feel like working out today, don’t ever tell them that their progress will suffer or that they “need” to get some exercise.  This puts distance between the two of you and makes him or her feel like a failure.  It also makes you come off like a disappointed parent who is upset about a subpar test result.  Let them know it is ok to rest and that they are making great progress.  Suggest a couple’s walk instead.  If they still don’t bite, cook dinner together and let it go.

2. Be Patient:  When we catch the fitness bug, we tend to shout from the roof tops and encourage everyone to jump on board the health boat.  That is all well and good but many people will not adopt your passion for weights or good food as quickly as you might like.  If your partner is a slow adapter, take your time!  Don’t push too hard or too fast.  Let him or her figure things out for themselves and grasp this new lifestyle at a pace that is comfortable.  Once your spouse sees progress or begins to feel better, he or she will naturally ramp up the volume.  Sit back and encourage, never push for performance or deadlines.

3. Let a Slip Slide:  There will be inevitable deviations from the path.  Your partner will veer off into sugar town or skip a few workouts in a row.  It’s going to happen.  Accept it and move on.  Don’t pout, give judgmental looks, or tell your lover that they’re falling off the wagon.  These life adjustments are hard and require a learned set of skills and mental toughness.  Not everyone is born with an ironclad will that helps to say no to cheese cake!  Let them have their cheat cake and workout break.  All you can do is be there for them when they wish to return and encourage their fitness voyage.

4. Set Couple Goals:  This can bring you both together and intertwine your fitness agendas.  Set a goal sheet for the week that has things like:  miles walked, workouts done, desserts skipped, or number of squats completed.  It can be anything that is measured in reps or distances but, keep the list simple, number oriented and, most of all, combined.  Do not set a column for your name and your partner’s, at least in the beginning.  When you each look at the goal list, you will see a combined total of work from both parties.  This will keep your spouse from feeling discouraged if he or she slacks on certain items.  If the two of you reach your target number have a reward set, such as: a couple’s dinner, back massage and pampering session, or small trip for the weekend.  Be creative and enjoy the work!

5. Love Unconditionally:  No matter if your spouse is failing to progress or quits entirely, love him or her.  You chose to be with this person for more than physical qualities.  A person is worth more than their weight.  Remember that the only thing you can truly do is be the best person you can be for your significant other.  The only control you have is over yourself and yourself alone.  You can’t make someone into something he or she isn’t.  You can only love that person for who he or she actually is.

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