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In Sickness and in Health: How Men and Women Deal With Illness

Posted: 07/25/11 03:28 PM ET

"Maybe that's enough, honey," she said as gently as possible, referring to his fourth glass of wine. Because she knows that there are limits what a healthy liver can process. "You are a fat, lazy, drunken cow," he heard as he glared across the table.

Don't let this scenario of an otherwise happy union happen to you!

Women are the harbingers of health as we always have been. I see the differences between how men and women approach their health in my private nutrition practice all the time. Women tend to be pro-active and ask a lot of questions for themselves and their family.

Even when the appointment is about her perimenopausal weight gain, she will ask about her husband's love handles and her child's aversion to cheese. We can't seem to help ourselves; we want to spread the wealth. Men wish to come in once a year and be told three things they can do better that will solve the problem at hand. If those things make sense to them and are easy to do, they will do them. Period.

Assuming you want to help (which is a huge assumption of which I am pretty sure...) here is plan:

As a practitioner, when I see couples together I explain that:

• She does not think you are stupid or lazy (well, the first 25 times) she tries to help. She is biologically designed and socially driven to take care of you. What her "nagging" is, really, is worry. She worries what will happen to her if something happens to you. She worries how the kids will be if they have to grow up without a father. She worries that if she doesn't say something your habits will get worse. She also does not like acting like your mother and wishes that you would accept responsibility for yourself so she can start worrying about herself again and leave you alone. Win win.

• In my opinion, he is biologically designed differently. If you think about it in an anthropological sense, could he be designed to ignore these sensations in order to keep hunting or gathering or protecting the pack? Slowing down to poop is a dangerous, smelly proposition (which also explains why he feels the need to hide in the bathroom/cave until the job is done and the danger has passed). He wants to be healthy and safe. He also wants to hear you, but he needs the information to be simple and framed in the positive.

When each knows and understands the other's reality it helps us to help each other! Here are some techniques that have worked wonders:

  • 1. Know and accept that men and women are different in how they approach health, neither is wrong and both can do better.

  • 2. She needs to limit her "tips" to three.

  • 3. He needs to hear her tips as love rather than nag.

  • 4. She needs to frame her tips in the positive tone of voice (saying "you can't" or "you shouldn't" doesn't work, he needs to hear the plan and the goal):

  • a. Let's get a special bottle of wine for Friday nights so we can look forward to it!

  • b. If I stopped drinking wine during the week, will you help me and do it too?

  • c. I am going to make more vegetables and show the kids we can do better! Which one would you like to see more of?

  • d. You did so well last week! Let's do it again!
  • As pathetic as it sounds, we all need positive reinforcement and someone has to start it. I wish it weren't true and I know it isn't always easy but, man, does it work.

He needs to listen. Nod and smile and appreciate. That's simple, right?

 

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