spouse disputeIt happens in a lot of long-term relationships: You or your spouse lets himself go. Maybe you put on a lot of weight after the baby and it seems too hopeless to get back into shape. Maybe he's overwhelmed with work and health issues and has just given up. What do you do? You want the two of you to be your best selves, to enjoy good health and remain vital and ... okay, almost as fun and sexy as you were when you first met. But you know what's going to happen if you bring it up: You're going to put your spouse on the defensive, and it's going to backfire.

We asked relationship expert and author Dr. Logan Levkoff for advice on the best way to approach this issue constructively and lovingly.

1. Make sure you're being realistic in your expectations. There's a difference between the ordinary changes a body faces over time and actually giving up and not caring about your health and appearance anymore. Women's bodies especially get altered after childbirth. But for men and women, it's not a big deal to gain a few pounds over the years. None of us gets frozen in time.

2. Dig deeper than looks. Levkoff says when someone lets themselves go, "it's often because a person has checked out of the relationship and their own lives." She warns against starting a conversation about how your spouse looks. No good can come from that! And it's not going to get at the root of the issue.

3. Ask yourself, "What would I want to hear?" Put yourself in your spouse's shoes and imagine how you'd want to have this conversation. This will help you to be gentle and empathetic.

4. Stay on the same team. Levkoff suggests starting with something like, "It seems like you're not happy -- what can we do to make you feel more confident and comfortable? What can we do together?" You're in this as a team, so don't make your spouse feel attacked or like a loser. Make it clear that you are there to enable them to be their best selves. And then be ready to listen without judgment.

Getting at the deeper cause behind your spouse's physical changes is going to help you both more in the long run. You'll get at the real root of the problem, and you'll be showing you care about the whole person, not just their looks. Taking on an attitude of teamwork will help even more.

Has this happened to you? How are you handling it?

 

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