If your overweight significant other prefers to sleep an extra half-hour rather than go for a brisk walk with you early in the morning, you may find yourself at odds in other ways as well.
A 2012 study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships found that mixed-weight couples, where one person is overweight and the other isn't, have more relationship conflicts in general than same-weight couples.
Mixed-weight couples also report arguing more over weight-related issues than over money or sex.
The good news: Couples reported feeling less conflict when the overweight person felt their partner was supportive in their efforts to eat healthier and exercise.
How can a partner be supportive and begin to motivate a loved one into a healthier lifestyle without alienating that person? Experts provide these pointers.
1. Let your partner pick the pace. If you’ve been running or exercising for a while, you’ll be faster and stronger than a beginner. So when your husband or wife finally decides to give it a try, refrain from showing off.
“And don’t complain that the pace may be slower than what you are used to,” says Elizabeth Lombardo, author of the upcoming book, Better Than Perfect: 7 Strategies to Crushing your Inner Critic and Creating the Life You Love. “Focus instead on the fact that you got him moving.”
(MORE: 10 Fitness Tips for People Who Don't Want to Work Out)
2. Keep a flexible schedule. If you’re an earlybird but your husband prefers an evening workout, find ways to compromise. Lombardo says to get rid of any perfectionistic approach (i.e. "the workout has to be like this or else there is not point in doing it").
“If you missed morning yoga, how about going for a bike ride in the afternoon, instead? Any movement is better than none,” she says.
3. Compare notes. Set your own goals and compare them with your significant other, says Neal Pire, a New Jersey sports conditioning expert and author of Plyometrics for Athletes of All Levels. “Share what you like/dislike about your body or fitness level and how you want to change it, then do weekly ‘check-ups’ while sharing daily updates along the way.”
Or keep track on fitness apps to gauge progress. Good ones include MapMyFitness, MapMyWalk and Hot5.
4. Give a healthy, get-away birthday gift. Plan a weekend excursion (or weeklong one, if finances and time allows) to a healthy spa or retreat, says Pire. “This can be life altering, geared to getting on and staying on the wagon long after you return home.”
Check out REI Adventures, which rates getaways according to difficulty and by state, or couple adventures can also be found on Adventure Finder.
5. Ask for “help.” Nobody can make someone do something they don't want to do, so lead by example, says Mark Nutting, fitness director of SACO Sport & Fitness, Saco, Maine.
“Invite workout friends over for dinner. Or get the other person to ‘help’ you with a physical project. Create a fun challenge with a prize at the end,” he says.
For example, geocaching paths — a fun and active real treasure hunt — can be found just about anywhere. Walking and hiking to find hidden treasure makes it easy to forget you’re exercising.
(MORE: 10 Tips to Fool Yourself Into Getting Fit)
6. Motivate, don't criticize. If your partner’s tennis form is a bit off or she’s swinging her arms too much while walking, keep your comments to yourself. “Critiquing is a great way to get the person to stop even bothering to try,” says Lombardo. “Tell her how much you really enjoy being together.”
7. Keep chitchat upbeat. Getting together for a workout is not the time to bring up money issues or other volatile topics.
“Make the exercise a fun experience for you and your spouse,” says Lombardo. “Don’t rehash old arguments or bring up what else you want him to do differently.” Instead stick to light topics or plan your next fun vacation or weekend getaway.
8. Celebrate goals. Focusing only on long-term goals makes it easy to forget the small triumphs that lead up to big results. Celebrating the little things can help your partner stay motivated.
“Once your spouse has achieved a short-term goal, such as exercising three times a week for two weeks in a row, celebrate with something special: a new workout top, a special (healthy) dinner, even a massage,” says Lombardo.
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9. Consider hiring a wellness coach. A life coach or health coach may be less intimidating than bringing in a personal trainer.
“A health or wellness coach can better understand an individual’s readiness to make a change and guide them from there,” says Nutting. The American Council on Exercise (ACE) certifies health coaches. Find one near you here.