If I'm in a group of people, even people I know well, I'm often the quiet one. So quiet, in fact, that people will often ask me if I'm all right. "You're so quiet. Is everything okay?" Usually everything is just fine. I am simply happy listening. It doesn't bother me to let the talkative people do the talking, unless of course it's a topic I feel strongly about, or if what's being said in the group is dangerously inaccurate or abusive in some way. Then I will definitely speak up. Otherwise, I sit back and soak it all in. I'm a deep thinker, and this is how I learn.
The nice thing about being "the quiet one," is that you have an opportunity to actually hear what people are saying, because you're not busy mentally constructing a eloquent comeback or witty rebuttal. And by hear, I don't mean the biological act of using your ears to transmit sound and construct meaning, but to actually listen to and carefully consider what's being said - with words and with tone and with body language, and even listening to what is intentionally not being said. I've had lots of practice with this now - observing and listening closely to people, and I'd like to think I'm getting pretty good at it.
Over the years, these are the concerns I hear men and women, husbands and wives, communicating to me and attempting to communicate to each other. Because I'm the objective outsider, I often am able to hear more than these individuals hear when talking to one another. I think the reason for this is probably obvious. I am not in that mix. I am not entangled. I can see things they might be unable to see and can serve as the sounding board.
What health worries do men have?
Men worry about what has happened to their bodies. They remember the lean, muscular, and athletic physique of their high school days, and compare that to the squishy meatsuit they inhabit now, and it bothers them deeply. They might cover their insecurities with some sarcastic, self-deprecating humor or feigned indifference, but on the inside there is a lot of negative self-talk and discouragement. They are embarrassed by their expanding waistlines. They dread swimsuit season as much or more than most women. They hate how their t-shirts fit (or don't fit) over the fleshy chest and flat tire around their middle. They notice the hair loss, the low libido, the erectile dysfunction, the occasional depression, and the lack of motivation to do much of anything. Many are not sleeping well...some surviving on as little as 4 hours per night. They grab food on the go, sometimes attempting to make good choices and other times not caring at all. It feels futile much of the time - food is the least of their worries, quite low on the totem pole. Their lives have become mostly sedentary. Those that make time for exercise often do so at the expense of rest and proper nutrition. If they are not overdoing it with exercise, they are likely at the other end of the spectrum - sitting most of the day (at home, in the car, at the office, at meals...) and despairing at their lack of energy and shrinking muscle tone. Their only comfort is noticing that most of their male friends look and act the same way, and maybe worse. They think, "Maybe this is normal? After all, I'm not in my 20s anymore."
Men that carry the added blessing/responsibility of a wife and family might worry about how they will sustain this costly enterprise in their current physical and emotional state. They are still young, but already taking one or more medications for health conditions they thought only old people were supposed to get. Acid reflux. High cholesterol. Pre-diabetes. Excess weight. Joint pain. Insomnia. Memory loss. Cancer. What in the world?! These men worry about their wives and their children - wondering if every family is dealing with all of these complicated diagnoses and unusual health complaints, or if it's just them.
How about the women? What health worries do they have? Women worry about their husbands. They see evidence of his declining health, and they begin to feel anxious about the future. They try to communicate their concern, but to their husbands it feels like judgment or nagging. She begins to dwell on the foreboding question, "What will the kids and I do if something serious were to happen to him?" And she feels like maybe she has to take things into her own hands in case he is forced to abandon his duties - temporarily or permanently. Her life lacks a feeling of safety and security that a strong, resilient, able, and vibrant male partner is supposed to provide. So along with taking care of the children (who are often not well either), she is picking up the slack and playing nurse to her resistant husband - reminding him to refill his medications, to ease up on the weekend drinking with his buddies, and to please take care of himself. She misses the man he used to be, and she's troubled by the man he's becoming. His poor health is a constant stressor on the entire family, but especially on her. She can only do so many things, and she's quickly reaching her physical and emotional limit.
At the same time, women are consumed with their own health issues. They are fighting fatigue, mood swings, hormonal imbalances, sleep deprivation, and extra weight, and are often blaming it on a "broken" thyroid, bad genetics, or early menopause - not understanding that those are merely inputs and information, not root cause explanations. They are worried about their children as well - the anxiety, the depression, the screen addiction, the junky diet, the food sensitivities, the obesity, the social influences, the medications, and the disconnectedness of our modern technological world. If she didn't already know that a home can't have two adults with crumbling health, she probably would have thrown in the towel a while ago. But somehow, for the sake of her children if nothing else, she keeps pushing forward and hopes for some kind of windfall.
What is the solution for relationships stuck in this downward spiral?
I wish there was an easy answer, but if that were the case - we'd all be doing it, right? To move in the right direction, I think at least these five requirements apply:
Honest communication between husband and wife about the status your health. No more denial. No more excuses.
Joint commitment to stop this runaway train and do what is necessary to bring the family back to a place of wellness. Take ownership of what is, even if it's not entirely your fault.
Intentional development of a team of supporters - family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, health professionals - who believe that better health is both available and attainable through dietary and lifestyle change. You might find you need to start building a whole new network of likeminded people, leaving some old influences behind, and this takes time, effort, and courage.
Steady devotion of time and finances to eat better, think better, move better, and live better. Improving your health is a lifelong pursuit and at times a full-time job, not a temporary hobby or trendy side gig.
Reliance on prayer and divine intervention, realizing that our human resources are finite, but His are not.
My husband and I have come along way in our almost 16 years of marriage. Both of us have witnessed the remarkable improvement of our health, as well as the health of our children, as we have cleaned up our diets and learned to live like actual humans again. We've had to engage in some difficult conversations, and allocate our finances in a whole new way. And it's not because the modern health care system has so skillfully guided us, I can assure you of that! If anything, the farther we distance ourselves from that "sick care" paradigm, the healthier we get. I believe the same can be true for you and your spouse. I hope you'll start today.