The Unexpected Ways Your Partner Influences Your Health

Falling short of your health goals? Here’s why you should talk to your partner.

Have you ever felt the relief of finally getting your diet back on track, only to have your partner bring home a large, cheesy pizza for dinner?

The next time you kindly tell your significant other to “stop sabotaging my diet!” you can back up your request with scientific evidence. A growing body of research suggests they play a key role in determining both your emotional and physical health.

A little encouragement goes a long way

The most active communities in America have something in common: Their residents are more likely to have a person in their life who encourages them to make healthy choices, according to the Gallup-Sharecare Well-Being Index.

In a recently released report from the State of American Well-Being series, researchers ranked 48 communities across the country based on an Active Living Score (ALS), which included environmental factors like:

  • Walkability
  • Ease of public transit
  • Availability of bike lanes
  • Access to green spaces like public parks

In each community, they also looked at people’s health habits and resources, along with rates of conditions like diabetes, heart disease and depression. Areas with better ALS had lower rates of chronic illnesses and higher overall wellbeing scores.

But one of the most important influences on a person’s health was their support system. For example, other research from the Gallup-Sharecare Well-Being Index ranked 189 communities according to healthy eating habits. Researchers asked residents, “Did you eat healthy all day yesterday?”

Responses varied widely by location, but people with the healthiest eating habits tended to report having:

  • Someone who encouraged them to be healthy
  • Relationships that were “stronger than ever”
  • Positive energy from friends and family

(The healthiest eating communities were in California and Florida, with Naples-Immokalee-Marco Island, FL taking the number-one spot. “Low healthy eating communities” were in states like Texas, Kansas and Louisiana.)

So how can you and your partner encourage each other to live your best lives? 

Build a healthy future together

The two of you probably share important life decisions like whether to buy a home or adopt a pet. But discussions about the future should include your health goals, as well. That’s because couples often share the same habits—both good and bad. Those behaviors can determine the number and quality of years you share.

Why do your partner’s bad habits keep rubbing off on you?

  • Your initial attraction was likely shaped by traits you can immediately see, like body mass index (BMI) or smoking status. People often go for visible signs of shared values or priorities—your partner may find these same things attractive about you too. That can cause you to reinforce each other’s behaviors.
  • You might share the same living space, refrigerator and possibly even financial resources for things like health insurance and gym memberships.
  • Emotions are contagious—that includes your partner’s motivation level. One group of researchers found people were less likely to give up a bad habit if their partner wasn’t ready to make the change.

When couples were motivated together, each person was more likely to:

  • Exercise three times a week
  • Get their full servings of fruits and vegetables
  • Lose weight
  • Report less stress

Couples with the same health goals and motivation levels also reported life satisfaction scores of at least 7 out of 10.

Get on the same page

Here are five ways you can team up to make healthy changes together:

  1. Don’t pick fights: Avoid criticizing their risky behaviors. Instead, give them praise and affection when they get it right, even if it’s a small victory like reaching for nicotine gum instead of a cigarette.
  2. Weigh in together: Whether it’s an exercise program or a visit to a weight loss specialist, you’re more likely to succeed if you start a program together than if you go it alone.
  3. Plan a new kind of date night: Set aside one night a week to do healthy, romantic meal prep together—light some candles, play soft music and turn up the heat.
  4. Get competitive: Train for a 5K at the same time, sign up for a local sports league, go for a weekend hike and see who can make it to the top first.
  5. Don’t split up active chores: Walk the dog together; fix up the garden when you both have the day off. Calorie-burning activities like these can help keep you slim, boost your mood and bring you closer together.

Switching up your routine may be challenging at first, but small changes will add up for better health and a stronger relationship in the long run.

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