4 Reasons Working Out with Your Partner Helps You Bond as a Couple
Welcome to Hump Day, where award-winning psychotherapist and TV host Dr. Jenn Mann answers your sexiest questions—unjudged and unfiltered. Have a quandary? Email us anonymously at HumpDay@instyle.com.
DEAR DR. JENN,
My boyfriend and I have been together for the past two years, and over that time, we've each put on about 15 pounds. We spend a lot of time Netflix and chilling ... by which I mean actually watching TV on the couch, in sweats, eating snacks. We made a resolution to get in better shape together in the new year, but I have concerns about competing with him and feeling self-conscious about my weight and body. I know it's only Jan. 3, but should I abandon ship? —Couch Potatoes in Columbus
It is great that you both want to get healthier and even better that you want to do it together. Making lifestyle changes with your partner increases your chances of success. Studies have found that when it comes to unhealthy behaviors, couples tend to be on the same page—so when one partner's health drops, the other's usually follows. But the good news is that when you have someone in your life to achieve a goal with you, you feel way more accountable and up your chances of following through.
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Don't make the mistake of setting a lofty goal without specific, actionable steps, though. Saying you're going to get to point Z without mapping out how will leave you both frustrated and, possibly, create friction in your relationship if you disagree about the when/where/how of it. The two of you need to address your goals on three levels: 1) Your television habits, 2) Your food choices, and 3) Your physical activity. Come up with a detailed course of action that both of you agree on in each category. The average American watches five hours of TV a day and studies have shown that television viewing actually decreases metabolic rate 13-16 percent while watching. Just agreeing to reduce viewing is a great first step. It also frees up more time for other calorie burning activities like exercise and sex! Making sure that your home is stocked up with nutritious food options is another important step for healthy eating. Coming up with an approach that works for both of you is vital for your both your success. Maybe you will go vegan, focus on a Mediterranean diet or whatever feels right for both of you. Or maybe you'll both devote yourselves to mindful eating (I have an app about this approach called No More Diets that you may find helpful). Whatever it is, sit down and come up with an outline together.
As for your hesitations, I understand them. Competing with your SO, especially if one of you is way ahead on the leader board, can create conflict. Men tend to lose weight faster than women, and this can discourage hard-working ladies. I recommend not sharing numbers (weight, measurements, steps, etc.) in order to keep the focus away from competition and stay focused on supporting one another.
Moreover, thinking about weight loss often triggers sensitivities about body image—and involving the person you tend to get naked with can complicate that. I recommend that couples stay away from critiquing or criticizing one another’s bodies. If you are worried about your partner being less attracted to you since you have gained weight, focus on the healthy changes you are making, your own goals and motivation. Be patient and kind with yourself.
Make sure you're both entering into this resolution with the right intentions. It sounds like the two of you are game for working out together, which is great. But I can't tell you how often this motivation comes from one party and not the other. Are you starting this goal because you're becoming less attracted to your partner? People worry that this makes them shallow; it doesn't. But it's important to broach the issue using sensitivity and think about how it will make them feel. Don’t start a regime in order to get your partner to lose weight. If your partner has gained weight and you are concerned or feeling less attracted, that is a separate conversation that the two of you need to have. Sometimes people gain weight because they are struggling with other issues and let their self-care go. If that is the case, it is a separate matter that needs to be addressed, which can be helped by working with a skilled therapist. Have a candid conversation, but ultimately the commitment will have to come from them.
But assuming you're actually both into this endeavor, working out together is good for couples for a number reasons—and it's worth risking the competition, in my eyes:
First, a joint activity, especially a healthy one that strengthens you physically and emotionally, is a great bonding experience. Studies show that after participating in exciting physical challenges or activities together, couples feel more satisfied with their relationship and more in love with their partner. Exercise is a great opportunity to re-create that lab study and fall in love all over again!
Two, sharing any common goal is a great relationship builder. Achieving something together helps you associate one another with helpfulness and success. And studies show that when that goal is working out, both men and women see higher success rates when they partner up with their spouses.
Third, turning your run, hike, or row into a date makes it far less boring! Sharing the process and spending that time together will help you stay on task and have fun and connect while doing so.
Lastly, it can improve your sex life. The feel-good endorphins that are released when you exercise ramp up your sex drive. Then there's the matter of catching an eye full of your partner glistening with sweat. Not to mention, when you feel good about your body, you are more likely to want sex—another great way to stay in shape!