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When You're Mothering Your Spouse

When You’re Mothering Your Spouse

By Amalah

Hi, Amalah!

I asked you question about a year ago about taking a job and having to quit school, etc. I took the job, learned a lot from a great boss, and did good work for almost a year when I landed a closer-to-my-dream job that I really enjoy. Thanks!

Advice Smackdown ArchivesNew question: How do I encourage my husband to take care of his health issues without nagging? Or do I ignore them until he realizes he needs to take care of them?

I love my husband very much, and he has been there for me through several serious issues (major depression and obesity). I’ve worked hard to overcome my depression and have recently changed my lifestyle and am losing weight, getting fit, etc. My husband has always been supportive of my issues and has never nagged me about them–I eventually just made the choice myself to get healthy, and I sought out the resources I needed.

My husband struggles with several health problems, and I have tried to be supportive since we’ve been together, but, as I’ve gotten healthier, I admit I’ve started to nag him more. I want us to be together for a long time and be able to do active things like traveling. He has seen doctors for his issues and is on medication, but he also sabotages himself by smoking, drinking a gallon of coffee a day, eating fast food almost daily, not doing his physical therapy, not exercising, etc. He recently quit smoking but started up again without telling me–I only figured it out by the smell. I was angry. He accused me of being controlling. Now I am at a loss.

He is in pretty constant pain and is only in his early thirties. I worry about where he will be in ten, twenty, thirty years. I know he has to want to change for himself, but I also know I can’t watch him continue to get sicker and sicker. We’re in therapy for other issues, but he says I have no room to talk about his health in therapy since I am still overweight (he didn’t say this quite so bluntly). My mother is the queen of nagging, so I don’t feel like I can ask her. My husband would be mortified if I asked any of my friends as he is embarrassed about his problems. So I’m asking you because I know you’ll be honest if I am way out of line here.


Here’s the thing: You’re his wife. Not his mother. Likewise, he is not a child. He is a grown man who very likely knows the problems/consequences involved with the choices he is making, but they are, no doubt about it, his choices to make.

Nagging will not help. I’m sure you can probably already see that it does not. It will not change his mind or his behavior, but WILL have a negative impact on your relationship. He’ll continue to hide behaviors that he knows you disapprove of (smoking, fast food) and possibly amp it up to straight-out deception (deliberately blowing his diet when you’re not around, lying about taking medication, using “I was at the gym” as a get-out-of-jail-free-style lie for whatever else he wants to do to himself, health be damned.).

You mention your mother is the “queen of nagging,” so…think about how the nagging habit has negatively impacted her relationship with you and others. You don’t even want to bring your problems UP to her. You don’t view her as a viable emotional support system. The next time you feel the urge to nag bubbling up (and we ALL get it, trust me), picture your mom, or your husband picturing YOU as your mom, and swallow the words back down and…go do something else. Go for a run. Practice some kickboxing. Clean a closet, whatever.

We all want our partners to love us in spite of our flaws — physical, personality-wise, etc. That’s likely where he is right now. He’s frustrated because quitting smoking isn’t easy, eating the fast food makes him feel better, but then he relapsed and let you down and you’re angry and he’s grouchy and doesn’t want to see the doctor for issue X, Y or Z until he quits cigarettes for real and loses 10 pounds and he’s in constant pain in his thirties and there you are on the other side of Health Breakthrough Land leaving him behind and why can’t you just be happy with him the way he is, etc.? Coffee? She’s judging me about freaking COFFEE? God. And as the tension escalates and he feels judged and mothered and defensive, he lashes out with the charming accusations that YOU are controlling and YOU are overweight and thus NOT PERFECT EITHER, LAY OFF.

We also all want our partners to listen to our concerns and recognize when we we ARE concerned about them and their choices. We all want our partners to respect themselves and our lives/future together enough to take basic care of themselves. It can be hard to know where the line is between being a supportive/concerned partner who wants to share our concerns and worries because we LOVE them..and being a nagging mother-figure who IS coming across as controlling because DID YOU TAKE YOUR MEDICINE YET? WHAT DID YOU EAT FOR LUNCH? TSK! HERE, I MADE SALADS THAT I KNOW YOU HATE. DO I SMELL SMOKE? WHERE ARE YOU GOING? WHO ARE YOU SEEING? WHEN WILL YOU BE HOME? CALL ME WHEN YOU GET THERE.

Usually, the answer here is “couples’ counseling.” Preferably before you get to the ultimatum/super-tough-love realm of things where you’re essentially threatening him to sack up and deal with his health problems and bad habits…or else you head to your mother’s/contact a divorce attorney/whatever. You get a neutral third party involved in helping you figure out YOUR role in his problems (which still probably isn’t going to be a big one, honestly) and helping him realize the toll his choices (and his defensiveness about those choices) are taking on the relationship…and him, and you.

And lo and behold, you guys are already IN couples’ counseling! And yet…he’s trying to dictate what you have the “right” or the “place” to bring up at said couples’ counseling. Which is…missing the point entirely, because that’s just not how therapy works. I don’t care if you two are there for other issues or reasons…this is an issue. An issue that would benefit from being talked through in the presence of a professional, instead of at home where the conversation tends to devolve into nagging from you and accusations of “controlling” from him. The fact that he brought YOUR WEIGHT into things as a reason why you shouldn’t bring up a topic that clearly has you worried and frustrated…well, I don’t care how “not as bluntly” he put it, that’s a straight-up jerk move. And it speaks volumes about the level you both are communicating with each other at. Your genuine, loving worry about the health and longevity of the person you love is reduced to pointless nagging about things that are simply not in your power to change, he’s defensively and not-so-subtly reminding you of YOUR imperfections that he’s accepted and not even tried to change, and round and round the back tires spin into the mud, going nowhere.

Talk to your therapist. With him or without him or both.

If there is a question you would like answered by Amalah on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected]

Published March 14, 2011. Last updated July 19, 2017.
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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