Tell Me About It

‘My husband said he was on a health buzz, but he was just cycling to the pub’

If he does not do more exercise, it is likely he will have a second heart attack

PROBLEM: Approximately two years ago my husband had his first heart attack, and he has had several operations to reduce the likelihood of a recurrence.

His cardiologist warned that he would need to make drastic changes to his lifestyle, otherwise it would be almost inevitable that he would have another major cardiac event. He struggled, but eventually gave up smoking, he also made the decision to take early retirement. This was initially a shock to me as he hadn’t planned to take retirement for several years, but his job was very stressful.

We had made some good investments early on in our married life, so we are financially stable.

I work part-time, so it means that there can always be someone at home for our two teenagers. In order to improve his cardiac function he purchased a very expensive bicycle and spent months planning cycling routes. He was never really a big fan of exercise, so I was delighted by this and have actively encouraged him.

Each evening he informs me he has cycled for over two hours and impresses me with the distance he has travelled. I make a healthy dinner and run the bath for him and sometimes rub his aching muscles. He has been disappointed that this new regime has not yet impacted on his waistline.

Recently during a Sunday lunch at a bar two miles from our house, a waitress seemed to be very familiar with my husband. While I hate spying on him, I discreetly asked her how she knew him. She said that he comes into the bar most days in his cycling gear for a few pints and a full lunch.

I am very angry with him, as I am not sure who he thinks that he is fooling by concocting such a convoluted story about his athletic achievements and improved dietary regime. I have never known him to lie before. I am so worried about his health that it is having an impact on my own mental and physical wellbeing. I am worried about confronting him as I know that he has made significant sacrifices to try and take control of his health.

But if he doesn’t do more, then it is very likely that he will have a second heart attack.

ADVICE: Your husband has lied to you, and now, it seems you are lying to him – by not telling him that you know of his pretence.

The reason behind both of your positions is fear: his fear of disappointing you and your fear of confrontation. Having fear lie beneath your communication is something that can be corrosive and is probably not what either of you want. Your own fear is leading to a deterioration of your wellbeing and therefore must be tackled, at the very least, for your own sake. You feel betrayed by your husband’s deceit and this leads to an angry response from you and while this is understandable, it will not help you create the change that you are looking for: a healthy exercise habit for your husband.

On the other hand, keeping your anger and disappointment hidden also has a detrimental effect on you, so action must be taken and it seems that the ball is firmly in your court right now. Your husband is an adult and you cannot force him to do anything he does not want to do. However, he has a huge motivation to stay alive and he has a great reason to continue living: the love of his family.

Speaking to him about what you have discovered is in the interests of all of you and this needs to happen immediately. Tell him you have made a discovery that is causing you a lot of distress and ask him what he thinks this is. Continue asking him what he thinks the way forward is for both of you and ask him to consider what might be helpful. Rather than coming up with immediate answers, both of you should take some time to reflect on the conversation and then talk again.

Sudden retirement can have a huge effect on someone and many people find that comfort habits come to the fore at this time. Your husband finds pleasure in food and without the demands of a stressful job, he might find that his mind constantly seeks comfort in a lovely lunch in a calming bar. Part of your discussion might be how to find focus and pleasure elsewhere for your husband and this has to happen in conjunction with challenging his current very rewarding habits. Not only has your husband had a stress-free lunch but he then gets the lovely thoughtfulness of an appreciative wife who lavishes attention on him. It will be very hard for him to lose this pattern but the honesty that will grow between you will increase the intimacy in your relationship.

Do not treat him as a “bold boy” as this will infantilise him and make a mother out of you; rather state the situation and let him chose his direction and offer yourself and your children as resources for him to use.

Have faith and patience as the road to fitness and weight loss is long and slow with many detours along the way.