How to Support Your Spouse or Partner in Achieving Heart Health

By James M. Rippe

The realization that you have significant risk factors for heart disease or the diagnosis of heart disease typically comes in adulthood. The most commons risks that arise in the middle years include cholesterol problems, high blood pressure, overweight or obesity, and insulin resistance (prediabetes) or type 2 diabetes.

Eating a heart-healthy diet and getting adequate regular physical activity are the two most important lifestyle “therapies” that you can use to reduce most of these risks. Having social support, however, is also very important in helping you achieve success in these areas.

For adults who are married or in a committed relationship, the most important social support is usually your spouse or partner. So here are some insights to keep in mind as both of you work toward better health.

  • Recognize you are in it together. Almost all adults Americans have one or more risk factors for heart disease and other chronic conditions. So chances are good that even if it’s your significant other, and not you, that has the primary diagnosis, you also probably need to work on adopting healthier lifestyle practices.

  • Offer positive support. Research confirms that providing positive support, rather than critical or ambivalent support, is more likely to help your spouse comply with his or her therapy and to have better heart health. Positive support means doing whatever it takes to enable your partner to carry out the prescribed activities and treatments.

One of the best things you can do is to see that “his/her” diet and “his/her” activity program become “your” diet and “your” activity program. In fact, you’ll be glad you did because your health will improve also.

Also listen and hear: Communicate with your spouse and respond positively and supportively. Sometimes just feeling like you’ve been listened to and hearing (out loud!) that someone really cares is really helpful and uplifting. Praise or positive comment on achievements, even small ones, is also usually welcome.

  • Don’t police behavior. No matter how hard it is to avoid, don’t become a behavior police officer. Trying to monitor every bite your spouse takes, keeping a checklist on activity sessions, or insisting on seeing the results of every blood pressure check or blood sugar reading is counterproductive.

  • Enjoy exploring new opportunities together. What’s on your bucket list — the things you and your spouse want to do together and those you’re interested in individually? Planning and doing some of these things together can enrich your friendship and supportive togetherness.