When we fall for someone, all sorts of crazy things happen to our brain chemistry that make us see our new partner with rose-colored glasses. We might overlook certain things, like the fact that they don’t share our passion for fitness and smoothies, or that they have a tendency to drink too much or indulge in other substances in a way that makes us uncomfortable. It might feel petty to break up with someone because they don’t take care of themselves, but it’s not. Really, breaking up with someone because of their unhealthy habits is a completely reasonable thing to do.
It’s real sign of maturity and self care to realize that someone else’s habits are bringing you down or at least have the potential to. Despite what any romantic comedy or fairy tale tells you, you are not going to be able to change someone all on your own (and honestly, you shouldn’t have to save anyone from themselves).
There are levels to unhealthy habits, and it’s really your call as to what you consider intolerable.
Some unhealthy habits are more obvious than others, or at least make for more socially acceptable reasons to leave a relationship at any juncture. Like if you tell your friends that your new partner is addicted to a dangerous, illegal substance they might consider it a no-brainer to get out early on. But things that are more acceptable in our culture, like smoking cigarettes or weed, eating junk food, or binge drinking as a “weekend warrior” might be harder habits to call out, for the simple reason that a lot of people consider them totally acceptable vices. But if they’re not the kinds of habits you want in your life, it’s OK to bail.
A lot of people struggle with mismatched health routines, especially as they get serious. Like, you want your significant other around for as long as possible, right?
For example, you might be the type who lives and breathes a strict a fitness routine, eats carefully, and never touches a glass of wine unless it’s a super special occasion. At the beginning of a relationship, you might not necessarily need your partner to be the same way. A lot of times, the emotional connection and vibe between the two of you can be strong enough that it doesn’t matter. And there’s a lot to be said for two people complementing each other, as opposed to being identical.
But over time, misaligned lifestyles can matter big time.
Depending on how long you plan on being with someone or if you want to get married and have kids, watching someone not take care of their body when you treat yours like the temple that it is can be rough. It’s a tricky conversation to have, because you likely care about them and want them to change their habits for them and, by extension, for your relationship.
Eventually, it’s up to you to decide whether you can live your life with someone who doesn’t share your healthy habits. According to one study that examined a couple’s fitness routines for a year, people tended to stay together longer when they shared a fitness program and also stuck with it for longer. If you think about it, it makes sense: Having someone to hold you accountable and be just as enthused about, say, hitting a pilates class after work before dinner can be a bonding thing.
But it can also lead to conflict. When one partner starts to lose steam, negativity can set in quickly. According to an interview with William J. Doherty, Ph.D., a therapist and professor at the University of Minnesota in The Greatist, “Negative attitudes towards a partner’s eating and exercise habits can also be self-protection strategies.”
So the partner who decides to skip the gym and sleep in on Sundays might start mocking you because they start to feel bad about themselves and choose to take it out on you. In the long term, you have to evaluate whether that’s worth all the good things they bring to your life. Likewise, you broaching the subject can lead to problems of its own. Not everyone takes constructive criticism in the supportive way it’s meant.
This happens all the time with addicts, too.
Coming to terms with someone’s health and fitness choices can be rough on a relationship, but dating someone with substance abuse issues can be even harder. A person doesn’t even have to be a serious abuser of a substance for it to affect your relationship, but if it’s leading to conflict and general sense of unease, something has to be done.
When it comes to drinking, eating disorders, or any kind of drug use, it can be really tough to walk away. For one, you know deep down that this person’s unhealthy habit doesn’t define them and likely, deep down (or maybe right there on the surface), they want to change. When you care about someone, it’s natural to want to stick around and help. Often, though, that’s not enough: A person has to do a lot of work to break their unhealthy and often dangerous habits, and sometimes, they just aren’t ready. In some cases, they might never be.
This might sound callous, but we always like to go by the Year Rule. If you’ve been dating someone for under a year, or just got in to it, you can GTFO as soon as you spot a problem. (To be clear, you are very free to walk away from an unhealthy situation no matter how long you’ve been together.) Obviously, that is way easier said than done. It’s always up to you to know best what you should do. But if you’ve talked to someone about their addiction, especially if it’s reaching dangerous and scary levels, and they continue to live that life, that’s not really something you can take upon yourself to fix. There’s only so much you can do for someone who’s suffering. Leaving because of their addiction might also inspire them to start thinking about getting help.
Dating someone with an addiction can take its toll on your own mental and physical health, and you shouldn’t feel guilty for putting your well being over a shared history with someone.
When you’ve been dating for longer, or the problem manifests itself years into a relationship and catches you both by surprise, things get a lot trickier to navigate. It can be expensive and hard, but working with a professional counselor or couple’s therapist is usually the safest, smartest way to help you navigate the future together or “consciously uncouple” if that’s the choice you want to make. Far too often, dating someone with unhealthy habits means staying in an unhealthy or even emotionally abusive relationship. If that’s the case, you owe it to yourself to get out.
Whether you’ve been dating for three weeks or three decades, it’s OK to call someone on their unhealthy habits and leave a relationship. A relationship is only as solid and healthy as its participants, and although no one is perfect, we each have to determine our own boundaries. Watching someone you love hurt themselves or not support you in your own healthy lifestyle is stressful and can really deplete your mental energy or self esteem. Standing up for yourself and your needs is what grownups do, and even though it might be really heartbreaking, sometimes you just have leave someone else’s unhealthy habits behind.