Dear Carolyn: Recently my husband’s parents came to visit after an absence of several years. I found that his obese father was even more unbearable than usual and even the kids were uncomfortable around him. He was unable to move around very well so he only got up to rifle through my cupboards and shovel handfuls of food into his mouth.
My husband is also overweight and is heading in the same direction as his father. His weight has always bothered me, but now I realize I absolutely couldn’t be married to what his father has become.
My attempts for the last five years to lovingly help him exercise – “Hey let’s get fit together this year!” or, “Want to go on a walk? It’s beautiful outside,” or, “I’m worried about your health sweetie; maybe we should pack you some healthy lunches at work” – have all fallen flat. Occasionally he’ll walk with me but then begrudges it, complaining about how he only does it for me.
I’ve explained that we’re young (early 40s) and have so much life yet to live, but only if we’re healthy enough to enjoy it. But nothing has worked.
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What I want to say is, “You’re really overweight and after seeing your dad I don’t want to end up living with someone like that.” But I don’t think that’s the right way to approach it either. How can I be honest about my feelings without hurting his?
Have you considered how you’ll respond if he does go the way of his dad? Will you leave him? Will you continue sharing a home but in a state of polite alienation? Will you wear it on you in any way that you find him “unbearable”?
Any of these would hurt him more, ultimately, than full truth-telling would now. Using his father’s visit as a nudge to say what you want to say would at least give both of you the information you need while you have the most possible lifetime ahead of you to figure out how to use it.
Here’s where I might have suggested efforts and phrasings to minimize hard feelings, but you’ve tried them and said them. All these tactics are good for anyway is to lead a cooperative horse to the water of basic self-care; they don’t work for partners who already take care of themselves but simply aren’t svelte enough for one’s tastes, and they don’t work on the uncooperative. Because little does.
Obviously weight is a difficult and emotional topic. It has its own direct pipeline to self-worth, fairly or un-. It is snarled in decades of incomplete, contradictory and sometimes flat-out incorrect information on nutrition, plus elements of nature and nurture, plus tectonic shifts in how and what we eat. It triggers often justifiable protest at being judged vs. loved.
However, a weight issue that’s (1) on course to become a mobility issue for him and, with that, a serious quality-of-life issue for you, and (2) due at least in part to negligence because his self-care effort is apparently nil, tips the argument toward letting him know exactly where you stand.
It also points to professional help, so ask your doctor for referrals. The nature of the excess or deficit is beside the point when self-destruction becomes the point.
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