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Hax: Readers discuss a spouse's responsibilities

  • Article by: CAROLYN HAX
  • December 22, 2013 - 2:33 PM

While I’m away, readers give the advice.

On begging, pleading, nagging a mate to adopt healthier habits:

Over the years, I have also come to the conclusion you have: My wife has chosen a path that I cannot force her from. In my situation I believe that any suggestions, hints or offers only strengthen her will to resist.

The main point I want to make is this: It is clear that a lack of activity and poor diet will shorten and/or reduce one’s quality of life. As I approach retirement age, I’m nagged by my thoughts that we’ll be living something less than we could have because my better half is home sick or an invalid. Take care of her when and if she gets to that point? I will. And consider that commitment: doctor/hospital visits, rehab, special care needs, not to mention the financial costs and stress.

I will have to try not to let bitterness enter. But it will be harder to get over these feelings when I think of what might have been when all she had to do was get off of the couch.

Married people have obligations to each other. It’s the fundamental premise of marriage.

Among the most basic and important of marital obligations is a duty always to be mutually supportive. Contrary to common misunderstanding of the concept, however, being your supportive spouse doesn’t mean being an uncritical cheerleader no matter what you do. On the contrary, a supportive spouse is one who does whatever is required to help you live the best, most fulfilling life you can. Nobody likes to be confronted about their failures, but who’s the more valuable friend, the one who buys you another drink when you’re already staggering, or the one who takes your car keys and won’t give them back no matter how angry you get?

A habit of total physical inactivity is unquestionably self-destructive, and it’s a spouse’s duty and right to address it, because the consequences, actual or potential, affect him or her profoundly. Someone may be widowed prematurely, in the meantime having had to care for a chronically ill and perhaps disabled spouse. Who would want a life of chronic illness and disability for someone he loves, especially if better lifestyle choices now might avert it?

People often assert that the “real” complaint isn’t worry about health but rather of being less sexually attracted to a spouse who has gained weight, with the implication that, if so, it’s a discreditable concern. It doesn’t have to be all one or the other. If sexual appeal is an issue, why shouldn’t it be? It’s a basic biological drive, after all, and a most powerful one. Of course, no one can be expected to look at 50 like they did at 20 or 30. But utter indifference to whether your spouse finds you attractive, and a total lack of effort to make yourself so is quite another, and violates the principle of reciprocal obligations that is the foundation of marriage. Would anyone expect her to “love him as he is” if he decided that an annual bath constituted adequate personal hygiene?

Exercise and weight loss aren’t synonymous terms, except in the popular mind, and there are much more important goals and results of physical activity than changes in body composition and shape. But when one spouse tells the other repeatedly that physical activity and good nutrition are important -- offering to initiate walks and participate in them, for example, not just ordering the other to go -- and the other consistently refuses, it is a blow-off to respond with casual, insincere throw-away responses like “next week.” The disrespectful message is, “I don’t care about you, your concerns, or the marriage -- leave me alone.” A spouse just might do it, too.

E-mail Carolyn Hax at tellme@washpost.com, or chat with her at 11 a.m. Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.

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