You’ve made your decision: Intuitive Eating is the path for you; it’s the right choice to heal your relationship with food and eating…but your partner just doesn’t get what this new you is all about yet, and it’s causing tension, misunderstandings and miscommunications.
You don’t want to cause a disruption in your partnership. How do you communicate better with your spouse about Intuitive Eating, so you can both feel secure in your decision to ditch diets and embrace Intuitive Eating?
In this blog post, I’ll walk you through some helpful strategies for better communication when your partner is stuck in diet culture, or just doesn’t “get” what you’re going through around food and body image. This includes how to explain to your spouse what your goals are, how to get your own support now and how to protect your boundaries.
Food is emotional
Food really can be such a sensitive subject. We don’t just eat to nourish our bodies; we eat to celebrate holidays, to connect with peers over appetizers and drinks and to dull overwhelming feelings. We eat when we’re bored or anxious.
We also have a whole lot of feelings and emotions around our choices: shame for eating certain foods or amounts. Embarrassment for hitting bottom on the bag of potato chips again. Not feeling safe with certain foods in the house.
Sometimes when we change the way we eat, or change our own rules, or even our own expectations with eating (as with Intuitive Eating), it can cause unexpected reactions in others. Take note: their reactions have a lot more to do with their own relationship with food and eating than it has to do with you.
If your partner is feeling insecure about any aspect of their own eating, your blossoming positive relationship with eating might shine a light on the very thing that they’re uncomfortable with. And so they react.
Friend: you can love your spouse and also continue on your journey. You getting healthier with eating is going to offer them an example of how things can be better when they’re ready.
In the meantime, what can you do to have a smoother conversations with your spouse? Kick things off with your needs.
Focus on your needs, not the facts
If you’ve been on your Intuitive Eating journey for a while, you may have come across some of the research that shows how poorly diets are serving us: they simply don’t work. Plus, they’re causing harm (More on that with my blog post: Why Diets Don’t Work).
If we’ve learned anything from the political climate of the past few years, two people can look at the exact same bit of information and form remarkably different opinions on what they saw and what happened.
The same can be true about Intuitive Eating information. The thing is, you don’t need your partner’s permission or blessing to work on your own healthier relationship with food. You don’t have to convince him or her that Intuitive Eating is “right” or “the best.” It is just helpful for them to understand that it is right for you.
There’s an old saying that I love – “you can’t change someone’s mind without their permission” – and it is especially true in terms of eating habits. Everyone – including your spouse – is inundated with diet culture. So while you can see diet culture for what it is – total BS – your spouse doesn’t yet have that perspective. (Psst: diet culture affects men, too.)
Protect your boundaries
When you have a shift in your own perspective, your partner might need a bit of time to catch up. With Intuitive Eating, you have new guidelines on how you want to live your life, especially around food and eating. These new expectations might be really different from what your partner is used to.
By no means do you need to feel stuck in these patterns, but you can offer your partner some compassion as they adjust to new patterns.
“I know that we used to make a lot of fat jokes, but I am no longer comfortable with that.
Let’s try this instead.”
And if you’ve reached a point where you two are not able to speak about these things constructively – you’re too upset or emotional – feel welcome to pause the conversation until you’re both able to communicate as you intend. Take a break, take a walk, have a glass of water, and regroup before diving in again.
Try different styles of communication
We’ve already chatted through food being emotional. And if your relationship patterns are adjusting, it is 100% normal to feel vulnerable and unsettled as you establish new patterns. The truth is, your partner probably feels emotional, too.
When emotions are high, it can be harder to have the constructive conversation that you’d like. Sometimes we are able to better express ourselves – without feeling at the mercy of your feelings – if we communicate in a different way.
You might be able to better express yourself in writing; you can send your spouse an email or write them a letter. Or read from a letter instead of trying to express yourself off the cuff.
Or you might be able to think better if you’re moving. Try having the next conversation on a walk or casual bike ride.
Or maybe it is just easier at first to talk about the hard stuff when you’re not looking directly at one another and you’re not tempted to overanalyze every single facial expression and body movement. Try taking a drive instead of sitting on the couch.
As you get better at communicating with your spouse, make sure to compliment anything that is happening that you really like. More on that in this next section.
Compliment what you do like
It is human nature to notice things that we don’t like – and to speak up about them – before complimenting what you love. Unfortunately, this can make our spouses feel picked on, even if they’re trying hard to be a supportive partner.
As you and your partner learn how to communicate better, be sure to directly compliment any behavior or communication that makes you feel good. Why? You’ll see more of it!
Find the script that feels right for you, but here are a few options:
“I felt supported when you changed the subject at our friend’s house after they started talking about the latest fad diet. Thank you.”
“Thank you for noticing that I have been consistent with meditating lately and that I seem less anxious.”
Be specific about exactly what is making you feel supported, heard, and valued to see more of those same behaviors!
Focus on progress, not resentment
You have found Intuitive Eating because you were ready for this information and ready for the positive changes in your life. Your partner might be in a different spot: and that’s okay! You don’t need to wait for them to catch up to keep making progress for yourself.
Try not to focus on convincing your spouse that you’re right; that is only going to shut them down when we want them to be open and curious about your journey. Let your partner learn from you when they’re ready. You can’t push them to be ready sooner than they genuinely are.
Just like anything else, we can learn how to communicate better with your spouse in baby steps that are practiced. Focus on progress, not resentment!
And in the meantime, as you and your partner learn to better support one another, find the community of support that you need, now.
Find the community you need, now
We all need to be seen and understood. And it isn’t fair to expect your partner or spouse to meet all of your needs. Right now, your partner might not get it 100%, but it doesn’t mean that he or she won’t be able to in the future. In the meantime, you still deserve support and understanding.
Find the community that understands so you can connect and develop your Intuitive Eating skills. Let your IE community celebrate your wins, inspire you along the way, and be your safe space for vulnerable moments while your partner isn’t able to be that just yet.
When we don’t feel seen or understood, resentment can build. While your partner learns with you, don’t get stuck in cycles of resentment and complaining. Focus more on the things that your partner is doing well to grow those supportive behaviors.
Next steps: how to communicate better with your spouse
As you learn how to communicate better with your spouse, you deserve support and understanding. This post includes a few of the many skills I offer through my Ex-Dieter’s Guide to No More Guilt, a community membership that includes biweekly office hours, workshops with other community members, and a lively supportive message board with 24/7 support as you learn intuitive eating. If you’re ready to empower yourself and join a supportive community, get on the waitlist for when this exclusive membership re-opens to the public again this August 2021!