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Kathy's doctor recently told her she should lose weight or she would be at risk for health problems. Her husband, Joe, has been at his wits' end because Kathy continues to ignore her doctor's instructions -- she loads butter on her toast, visits fast-food restaurants for lunch and sits around all day instead of getting the exercise she needs to drop the extra pounds.
So what does Joe do? What nearly everyone in his position does -- he nags.
"Why are you doing that? You'll kill yourself! You should do this instead!" Most people commonly rely on nagging to persuade loved ones to improve their health habits, but the tactic usually proves ineffective.
The next time you want to nudge your mate to quit smoking, lose weight or make other healthful changes, try these alternatives.
Offer positive reinforcement. Sincerely congratulate your mate when he or she makes a positive change, no matter how small. Offer a warm compliment when your spouse loses a few pounds; give an impromptu back rub for several days of no smoking; or promise tickets to a sporting event or concert for maintaining an exercise program.
Change your own habits. Eat the way you know your spouse should, for example. Stop buying fattening foods, and stock the refrigerator with fruits and vegetables. Turn off your favorite TV show and invite everyone on a family walk instead. Sure, it may take a while for your loved one to catch up with you, but by serving as a role model, over time you'll be providing a wonderful example for the whole family.
Ask for help in making your own healthful changes. Say, for example: "The doctor has told me to get more exercise, but I just can't walk regularly by myself. Could you please help by joining me?"
Schedule a doctor's appointment for your loved one at the same time you schedule one for yourself, if your mate is overdue for a preventive-care visit. Many people get nervous about these appointments, and sharing the time together can make it more pleasant for each of you.
Bring concerns to your spouse's attention in a caring, gentle way. Let him or her know how sad you'd be if bad habits caused him or her to get sick, and how happy you'd be if he or she had the vitality and energy to do enjoyable things. Read up on health information, then leave it on the coffee table or night stand.
Avoid shaming or badgering. Give your mate the facts, then back off. You've made the point that healthful change matters to you, but he or she then must decide to take action. An easygoing, nonjudgmental atmosphere will leave your loved one feeling free to come to a positive decision independently. This approach requires infinite patience and openness -- and often will feel like it's going nowhere -- but it's the one most likely to help inspire long-lasting, decisive change.
Learn to accept your loved one as is, even if your mate doesn't make any changes or relapses after making a good try. Behavioral change seldom comes easy, and it can take a long time, with a lot of trial and error. Your openness, love and support are the best help you can offer to inspire your mate to become healthier and happier.