Breaking My BF's Bad Habits with Some Real Talk

Jul 23 at 9am

Hi Jessica,

I've been dating this guy for almost a year and things are fantastic between us. We have excellent communication but there is something I am having trouble saying to him. There is almost a 12-year age difference between us (he's older) and I really see a future with him but I am concerned about his unhealthy lifestyle. He's a smoker and recently admitted to me that he smokes more heavily now than ever before. He also weighs more than he's ever weighed before and he's got the gut to prove it. He doesn't have any intention of quitting smoking tobacco even though he realizes it's a crutch. He also claims that he doesn't have enough time in his week to work out and has recently been suffering from back problems. Once upon a time this guy was an athletic swimmer but I'm having trouble even getting him into the pool. I know he's stressed enough from work and I don't want to add to that by nagging. I don't want to be mean but how do I get my message across that when he doesn't take care of himself it hurts our relationship? -ES

When it comes to long-term relationships, sometimes we’ve got to throw down ultimatums. I’m not talking about controlling people with threats, because that’s major BS (even if you believe that it’s for their own good). What I’m talking about is that at some point in a relationship if you find your partner doing (or not doing) things that threaten your quality of life in some way, you’ve got to lay some boundaries down. This is where ultimatums come in; it’s perfectly reasonable to say to a partner that you need them to take care of some part of their life so that you aren’t put into a position to take care of it for them. This is about protecting your own quality of life, not about controlling theirs.

You don’t get to change him just cause you’ve changed your mind about his habits, even if your proposed renovations would make him a better man. 

So, ES, I ask you this: do you fear that he is screwing up his health and that you’re going to have a sickly old man on your hands before his time? Or do you find him less attractive because he’s becoming a smoking bump on a log? It seems like you knew he was a smoker with a gut before you fell for him, so I wonder what’s changed. What I’m getting at is that you don’t get to change him just cause you’ve changed your mind about his habits, even if your proposed renovations would make him a better man. If the life you want to live is being interrupted by how he takes care of himself, you need to speak up about that. You’re entitled to your feelings and needs around this stuff, but he is too. So be forthright about what’s changed for you and why; he deserves to know what’s bugging you, and to get the chance to try and make it right.

I’m a fan of the Sandwich Technique for difficult issues in personal relationships. The first slice of bread is to tell him how much you love and value him; the meat is your concerns; the last piece of bread is for another heartfelt, positive thing.

I’m a fan of the Sandwich Technique for difficult issues in personal relationships. The first slice of bread is to tell him how much you love and value him, or some other honest thing you adore about him. The meat is your concerns; don’t mince words about what you need and feel concerned about. Let him know your fears, but leave your judgments out of it. The last piece of bread is for another heartfelt, positive thing. Reiterate how much you care and your hopes for a long and awesome relationship with him. Let him know your motives, and again, make sure you’re honest, even if it’s messy. You might not fix anything in this conversation, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have it. Try to understand where he’s coming from and see if you can get him to understand your perspective. You’re wise to not nag him about this, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make sure he hears you out. It’ll suck if he’s unwilling to change, but you have to accept his life choices, even if you don’t need to stick around for them. Figure out if you share values about how to live well, so you can build a future you’re stoked on. Good luck!

xo,

Jessica

The Mission’s resident advisor gets booked months in advance by San Franciscans seeking help with all kinds of relationship issues. So we asked Jessica if she’d come on board to do a weekly advice column, Truth Talk, for The Bold Italic. If you have a burning question for Truth Talk with Jessica Lanyadoo, you can post your question anonymously here or email her at truthtalkwithjessica@gmail.com, and check back on Wednesdays to see if she has an answer for you.

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