BY LAUREN SCHUMACKER
When you spend a significant amount of time with a person, any person, it can influence pretty much every part of your life. A serious relationship with a partner, whether dating, living together, engaged, committed, or married, can affect your daily routine, shopping habits, hobbies, TV viewing habits, friendships, and more.
One of the most significant ways that your partner can affect you is by affecting your health. From diet to sleep, stress to mental health, drinking and addictions to sexual health, your partner’s health status can seriously affect your own. While some of these can appear almost immediately, others, both positive and negative, take time to take hold.
It’s worth knowing how your partner’s health may affect your own so that you know what to expect, so I asked the experts. As the saying goes, knowledge is power.
Sleep is an extremely important part of health and wellbeing, but many people don’t get enough or recognize how essential it really is. Even if you normally sleep exceptionally well, if you’re now sleeping in the same bed as someone else, you might notice that your quality of sleep suffers. As Dr. David Gruener, a cardiovascular surgeon at NYC Surgical Associates, explained to me, there are four phases of sleep. You have to move through each phase chronologically, which can present problems for those who can’t sleep well, for whatever reason.
“You really need to sleep well for a solid four to six hours before you reach stage three, which is really the important phase of sleep, when your growth hormone is released, when the body’s actually repairing itself, so waking up all the time doesn’t help you very much at all,” he said.
If you’re consistently being woken up by your partner moving around, getting up early, or climbing into bed late at night, you might not be getting enough restorative sleep, which, over time, can really take a toll.
Drinking and addictions
Drinking and other addictions in one partner can absolutely affect the other. Whether it’s due to the side effects of their addiction or because you’ve picked up the habit as well, your partner’s drinking or addiction to caffeine, street drugs, and prescription drugs all impact you too.
“Even though you may have set a decision that you’re just going to have a glass of wine on the weekends, if he’s drinking, chances are you may feel pressure to drink as well,” as Dr. Donnica Moore, president of the Sapphire Women’s Health Group, told me.
Whether you both smoke or only one of the two of you smoke, it’s a behavior that can absolutely affect the other person’s health. If you both smoke, but one of you is trying to quit, the fact that the other smokes might make it more difficult for you to successfully quit, said Moore.
Beyond that, “smoking exposes you to secondhand smoke, so even if you’re not smoking, you’re inhaling that,” Moore said. So even if you think your health will be completely unaffected because you’re not doing the smoking, there still might be enough smoke around to seriously impact your health.
The people with whom you spend a lot of time, whether coworkers, family, friends, roommates, or your partner can majorly impact your diet. If all of your coworkers eat a salad at lunch, you may start to do so too. If your roommate is gluten free and you two always eat dinner together, chances are most of your dinners will be gluten free as well.
“If you work a lot and your partner isn’t really cohesive with you in terms of eating habits, especially when you feel a little bit off and you have junk food around the house, you’re just much more likely to kind of break down and eat a bunch of junk,” Gruener said. Is it that person’s fault? Of course not, but if they’re not keeping up with your strict diet rules, you might feel like you can give yourself a little bit more leeway from time to time as well.
Whether it’s a cold or flu virus, stomach flu, pink eye, pneumonia, cold sores, or STIs, Moore says that any contagious infection that your partner comes down with can ultimately affect your health as well. When it comes to STIs in particular, many people believe that if they contract one from their partner, that it means that their partner is likely cheating on them, but that isn’t necessarily true.
“One of the infections we’ve been talking a lot about lately is HPV, or human papilloma virus. And that’s something which is pretty ubiquitous and up to 80 percent of adult Americans contract some strain of HPV in their 20s, but eventually clear that,” said Moore. “However, there’s no test for men that’s readily available, you can only test women, and we recommend the test for all women over 30. So you can contract HPV, even if you’ve been in a mutually monogamous relationship for, you know, even ten or 20 years.”
Your partner’s mental health issues can, without a doubt, cause you to experience extraordinary stress. No matter how disabling, there are many, many ways that mental health issues can impact your health as well as theirs.
“It’s not possible for your partner to have any kind of mental health issue and you not be affected, but the most common mental health problems that affect a partner are the ones that have not yet been treated,” said Moore.
Your partner’s mental health status can impact your sleep, how you take care of yourself, your diet, and so many other parts of your life. It’s also important to remember that you’re likely not equipped to treat your partner’s mental health issue, so encouraging them to seek the help of a qualified professional might be one of the most significant things you can do for them.
Whether you workout with your partner or not, they can still have a significant effect on your exercise regime. “I prefer [to exercise] in the morning,” said Gruener. “If you have somebody that’s kind of a little averse to that, like they’re kind of grumpy with you getting up in the morning and they don’t like being disturbed, that’s going to affect your schedule, as well.”
Plus, if you’re waking them up when you get out of bed for an early-morning workout, you’re affecting their sleep, which, as we’ve already discussed, can negatively affect their health.
Care and support
At some point over the course of your relationship, you’ll likely need to provide support and care to your partner due to an injury, illness, or other health condition. “This kind of disruption is, obviously if you love and care about this person, it’s emotionally horrible. But it’s also physically grueling,” said Moore. “You may have to lift the person, you may have to assist them with going to the bathroom or eating or dressing or just getting outside to get some fresh air.”
Coordinating appointments along with home and relationship responsibilities can also put stress and some strain on the partner taking all of this on. Whether your partner broke their leg or suffers a catastrophic injury from which they’re unlikely to recover, it can wear you down physically and mentally.
Pregnancy disrupts just about everything in expectant parents’ lives. While, typically, only one partner is pregnant, the experience seriously affects the other partner’s health too.
“A lot of men report that they gain weight because all of a sudden their partner is eating more and they’re eating more too,” said Moore. “But many men feel a little left out or a little stressed or worried if there’s a problem in the pregnancy, concerned about ‘how am I going to support this child and pay for college?’ and stress and all those things.”
Additionally, sometimes there are things that a pregnant partner will no longer be able to do, which the other partner will have to take on for the duration of the pregnancy and perhaps also during that “fourth” postpartum trimester. Everything changes.
As you likely know, stress can be quite detrimental to your health. If you are dealing with a partner’s health issues, their own stress, or other relationship issues pertaining to finances, housing, or just about anything else, that can make you stressed as well. When you’re stressed, your body releases cortisol, which, Gruener tells me, is basically a fight or flight hormone. It causes your blood sugar to spike so that you can spring into action. Short-term, it’s an important survival mechanism, but if you’re stressed for an extended period of time, your blood sugar will be continually elevated, which isn’t good.
“Say you’re just eating relatively healthy and your hormones are in perfect balance and then you eat relatively healthy and you have a huge amount of stress hormones. Your body is going to react very, very differently,” Gruener said. “It’s gonna be almost like you’re eating candy all the time because your blood sugar’ll be through the roof.” Coping with stress and minimizing its effects are exceedingly important.
Menopause, like pregnancy, often only impacts one partner directly, but can affect both over time. “Only two thirds of women have bothersome menopausal symptoms,” Moore said, but those bothersome symptoms, however, can really disrupt the lives of both partners.
“You may drive your partner crazy changing the temperature all the time. You may drive your partner crazy with mood swings,” said Moore. “With respect to night sweats, night sweats is not ‘honey, it’s hot in here,’ night sweats is ‘the sheets are drenched and I have to get up and change them,’ so that can be very disruptive, and actually most women report that the most bothersome symptom of menopause is sleep deprivation and sleep disturbances.”
If you find yourself regularly needing to get up and change your clothes and sheets in the middle of the night, chances are your partner is suffering from sleep deprivation, as well.
Anything in one partner’s life that affects sex certainly affects both partners. For example, one such issue that is characteristic of both menopause and postpartum life is vaginal dryness.
According to Moore, vaginal dryness can cause painful sex, which often leads a steep decrease in sexual intimacy. Additionally, if one partner doesn’t feel comfortable having sex on while on their period, that can affect a couple’s sex life, as well. Not only that, but some medications can affect one partner’s libido, which, of course, can affect intimacy between the two of them.
Birth control pills, antidepressants, and some antihypertensive medications can all negatively affect libido, Moore said. Definitely an undesired side effect.
While urinary issues in one partner may not affect the other partner’s health, it certainly affects their life. Moore told me, “30 percent of women over 35 have incontinence, which is the involuntary loss of urine for any reason.” When women suffer from stress urinary incontinence in particular, which is incontinence as a result of activities like laughing, jumping, dancing, sex, or anything else that puts stress on your abs, they often tend to begin to avoid those activities.
The problem? Most of those activities are activities that they would participate in with their partner, who now has to either abandon those hobbies and activities or participate alone.
Like urinary issues, orthopedic issues can seriously impact a couple’s life. “People with orthopedic problems, particularly people with back problems, very often don’t want to travel because just being in a car is really uncomfortable,” Moore said.
Likewise, any activities like going to the movies, going to see a show, going to sporting events, and more, can all be off the table if your hips, legs, or back hurts after sitting for an extended period of time. That can keep you and your partner from doing a lot of things that the two of you used to really enjoy.
Your partner’s health can really impact your life
While you may not think that it would, your partner’s health can affect you life in numerous ways. Beyond your daily diet, sleep, and exercise routines, it can also seriously affect you over the course of weeks, months, and years.
From temporary conditions to permanent illness or injury, your partner’s health status can actually change your own. Talking about health and routines can be extremely important within your relationship, even though it can undoubtedly be quite difficult. Knowing what kinds of things your partner is dealing with that might impact your health and life — and telling them how yours could affect theirs — can help you both work through it and just may make your relationship stronger.