My Husband Refuses to Take Care of Himself

Your husband's lack of self-care may be making you distressed.

Posted Mar 27, 2019

Dear Dr. G.,

My husband is frustrating me and I am at the end of my rope. I have known him since high school. I married him after we both finished with college. We are the parents of 2 beautiful and healthy teenage children. I put a lot of emphasis on good self-care. I exercise and eat well. I try to be a good role model for my children. So far, that seems to be going well. What is not going well is my husband's attitude toward his own health. When I met my husband he was a runner and he took care of his body and health. Now that he is in his late 40's he should be even more concerned about his health. Instead, he is no longer exercising and he is eating junk food that he would never even consider eating when he was younger. My own father has dealt with issues related to heart disease. I encourage my husband to exercise and eat better but he just sort of tunes me out. He has stopped going to annual doctor visits and says that doctors just find problems and that what he doesn't know won't hurt him.

I can't even believe that my husband is acting this way. It feels like he doesn't care about me and the kids. I am getting so angry at him. I feel like his lack of self-care is a way of telling me that he really doesn't care about how his behavior affects his family. He even mentioned that if anything happens to him he has made sure that we will benefit from his excellent life insurance policy. I thought that that was an unnecessary and somewhat hostile comment. I don't want his life insurance policy. I want him to live and be well. I don't think my husband is depressed. I just think that he doesn't understand the importance of taking care of himself anymore. I'm not sure what to do. I'm hoping that I don't start getting too angry at him. That won't be good for anyone in the family. Please help me find a way to deal with this before it destroys my family.

A Frustrated Mother and Partner

Dear Frustrated Mother and Partner,

Your distress makes sense to me. You went into this marriage hoping that you and your husband would live a long and healthy life together. You were also hoping to be good role models for your children. You are basically telling me that your husband is letting you down by changing his ways. And, I understand completely. I can't even begin to count the number of women who have come to my office concerned and frustrated by husbands who refuse to get medical attention and who bristle at the idea of starting to or resuming exercise. These men have a number of reasons for resisting doctor appointments. They range from not having time to having had bad experiences with doctors. My take on this is that these men are afraid of what they may hear from their doctors so they rather live in a state of ignorance and denial. This is universally frightening and infuriating to their partners.

I can make a number of suggestions even though it is highly likely that you have already tried these strategies.

Try very hard to get the timing right. Discuss the importance of the doctor visit when you and your husband are relaxed and alone. Let him know that the whole family cares about him and wants him to be happy and healthy. Explain that it is his presence that you want rather than the money from his life insurance policy. Offer to go to the doctor with him if he has some reluctance about going alone. If he is uncomfortable with his current doctor then perhaps you can find a doctor who he would be more comfortable with. There is not a single person among us who wants to visit a doctor who is unsupportive and critical. Attempt to find out what your husband's resistance is about. Perhaps he is embarrassed about getting weighed. He may not want to be seen as a failure by not "doing well" on his medical exam. You may want to offer to exercise with him and partner up on eating healthy together. Most importantly, you want to come across as supportive rather than as nagging. This is a dilemma because his behavior may lead to what he calls nagging. 

If you have tried the above and your husband continues to be resistant, then perhaps you can ask a trusted friend or relative to talk to your husband. There is a chance that someone else may get through to him. If time passes and there is no movement then you must move on to the final step and that is telling your husband how his lack of self-care is affecting your feelings toward him and the quality of the relationship. At that point, it will be up to you how you will deal with this. Take time and put lots of thought into this. There is always the chance that your husband will change his behavior after he or someone who he cares about experiences a health scare. Ultimately, your husband is responsible for himself.

Good luck and I sure hope things work out for you. Your heart is in the right place.

Dr. G.