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6 ways your partner can affect your health

A young couple with a dog

When you get into a serious or committed relationship—especially when you start living with someone—you can expect influences and changes in almost all aspects of your life.

What you may not realise at the outset, is that having a partner can affect your health—both positively and negatively.

Let’s have a look at some of the ways this can happen.

Sleep

Sleep is a biggy. It’s critical to good mental and physical health and good performance during the day. No one feels happy or energetic if they are not sleeping well. Some people can become positively Grinch-like through lack of sleep, and on-going lack of sleep can be really bad for your mental health.

You may have been a champion sleeper when you were sleeping on your own, and suddenly find that you seem to be sharing your bed with someone who twitches and scratches and grunts all night.

A young couple in bed. The woman is watching the man snore with an annoyed look

Your partner may have very different bedtime or sleep habits to you—going to bed later, getting up earlier, reading in bed for hours before going to sleep, being a close sleeper that needs to spoon all night, needing a doona in summer while you’re sweating, or throwing all the covers off because they’re hot, when you’re perfectly sorted.

Sleep experts say that you need to move through all four stages of sleep to get the full benefits. It takes four to six hours of good sleep to reach stage three. This is an essential stage when your body goes into self-repair mode and releases growth hormone.

According to the experts, the best environment for sleep is one that is completely dark—as dark as you can possibly make it—slightly cool, and silent. Devices with screens, LEDs or other glowy things, such as your collection of glow-in-the-dark dinosaurs, are a no-no.

Mobile devices are particularly unhelpful as they emit a lot of blue light which tricks the brain into thinking it’s daytime. (Many devices now offer a ‘night mode’ which changes the screen to warmer, slightly darker colour tones with much less blue light. Better still, turn them off, or charge them in another room.)

If it’s not possible for you to make your room dark or quiet enough, some people find that a sleep mask and/or ear plugs can really help – especially if you or your partner is a shift worker and needs to sleep during the day.

A good bed and mattress can make a difference—some mattresses or beds can more when your partner moves, so you feel their every twitch. ‘Independently sprung’ mattresses don’t do this as much, helping to tame the twitching.

Your choice of bedding and pillows can help too. Pillows are a very personal thing, and it may be helpful to have separate blankets or doonas if you are a hotter or cooler sleeper than your partner, or if they are a chronic sheet-stealer. You know the type: they grab the covers firmly in both hands and roll over, leaving you shivering in the dark.

Some couples end up sleeping in separate single beds to get better sleep—separate but together. Some may even choose different rooms if their sleeping habits prove to be very different.

People’s sleep can be positively influenced by their partner. They may help them keep more regular sleep times, make them feel comfortable, loved and safe, and other more vigorous nocturnal activities may help some people sleep better.

Keep the lines of communication open when it comes to sleep and make your needs known. Gentle negotiations can help smooth out some of the wrinkles in the relationship and your morning bed face.

If you are still sleeping badly and it is affecting your mental or physical health, you should have a chat with your GP.

Alcohol and other drugs

Alcohol and other drugs are another area where people can influence each other positively or negatively.

You partner may be a great role model and encourage you to live healthily and not drink too much or use drugs.

But if you don’t drink, drink seldom or sparingly, and your partner drinks a lot, it may be hard for you to not feel some pressure to drink with them.

If your partner uses street drugs or prescription drugs, you may also feel pressured to partake. Even if you don’t, their habits are very likely to impact you, particularly if they have an addiction.

Alcohol and other drugs can be mood-altering and make people less predictable, moody and even irrational. They can impact existing mental health conditions. This is very likely to impact your mental and physical health and wellbeing if you live with that person.

If you are concerned about your own or someone else's alcohol or drug use, the ADIS (Alcohol and drug support) website is a good place to start for information and support.

Here’s a site that lists ADIS and other confidential alcohol and drug services available in Queensland.

Smoking or vaping

If one or both of you smoke, your health is being affected. Smoking is the leading preventable cause of illness and death in Queensland.

Quitting smoking is very possible, and tens of thousands of Queenslanders have done it. If you both smoke and one of you tries to give up, it can make it very difficult for that person. Giving up smoking is one of the best things you can do for your health and your partner’s health.

Here are some resources to help you quit.

Vaping is also harmful to your health. One in five vape juices sold in Australia have been shown to contain nicotine—despite it being illegal, and them being labelled otherwise. The risks are even higher if you if you buy vape juice online from overseas, as these often come from countries where there is little control over how they are manufactured and what they contain.

See our detailed blog on the subject: What’s really in vape juice?

Food

Ah, food. What an awesome thing it is. What, when and how you eat can be heavily influenced by the people you spend the most time with. This can also be positive or negative. For example, if you share an office pod with three or four ripped health and fitness types who eat lean protein and salads for lunch and knock out a few burpees between meetings, you are likely to start feeling a bit awkward about your every-day supersized fast-food order. You may even feel the need to join them with the salads.

Likewise, if you’re trying to cook and eat healthily and your partner insists on eating chip sandwiches and deep-fried ice cream for dinner or eating take-away four nights a week, things are going to get a bit awks.

Two groups of food - healthy and unhealthy

Authoritarian heavy-handedness or outright bans are likely to cause bad vibes in the love nest, so as with sleep, gentle negotiation may be the best way forward on the food front. Maybe have a convo about wanting to eat a healthy diet and gently ask for their support.

You can agree, for example, to get takeout or eat out only once a week, or once a month even, or take turns to cook a delicious healthy meal.

The Healthier. Happier. website has heaps of delicious and healthy recipes for you to try.

Mental health

A partner can be great for your mental health and wellness by providing love, friendship, and a sense of belonging.

They can also be a great source of support if you are living with a mental health condition (or a physical one).

Conversely, if your partner has a mental (or physical) health condition, this can have an impact on you, and affect the health of you both in many ways, especially if their health issues are not being treated.

Your sleep, your diet, your exercise, your happiness and peace of mind, your use of alcohol or drugs, your work, your other relationships, and your own mental health can all be impacted.

While you can and should support your partner, resist the understandable desire to become their therapist—it doesn’t take training to know that is not a good idea for any partner—it’s very important that they get help from a professional.

Help is available and you should encourage them to seek it.

You can find suggestions on looking after your mental wellbeing on the Dear Mind website.

If you are having suicidal thoughts, or are worried about someone you know, there is help available.

If you or someone you know needs help now, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. If someone is in immediate danger, call Triple Zero (000).

Physical activity

Being active is essential for good health and experts recommend adults are moderately active for at least 2.5 hours each week. Having a partner or friend to exercise with can make this a lot more fun and keep you accountable.

Chirpy happy morning types will tell you that early morning is the best time to exercise, and it may well be—for them. If you are more cranky-as-all-get-out than blissed-out-to-the-max at the thought of moving your body at dawn, you may prefer exercising at lunch time, or in the evening.

The type of exercise can make a difference, too. Not everyone feels that swimming two kilometres in icy water at dawn is crazy good fun, but some do.

Some prefer exercising alone, where their red, sweaty faces and distressing noises are all their own. Others love to exercise in loud groups, like galahs, and that’s all good.

You and your partner may also be at very different levels of fitness, strength, or speed at a particular activity which can lead to some heated conversation.

These differences and preferences can sometimes make exercising together awkward for couples.

You could always try a new form of exercise that neither of you have done before – try hiking, cycling, join a boxing class, do indoor rock climbing, take Tai Chi lessons, go stand-up paddle boarding—until you find something you both like.

A young couple running on the beach

Again, negotiation and compromise may help you find a way you can exercise together, or you may find that exercising separately is best. No one said you must do absolutely everything together, and it may be good for your relationship and conversation to do different things occasionally.

For more information and ideas for physical activity, visit the Fitness section of the Healthier. Happier. website.

Just do it.

What to do when a relationship is not healthy

Being in a committed relationship is often great for your health and wellbeing but sadly some relationships are damaging or even abusive.

Domestic and family violence (DFV) involves abusive and violent behaviour towards a partner, former partner or family member. It is much broader than physical violence, and includes actions that control, humiliate or scare the other person.

There is an important difference between a partner who is interested and attentive and one that is interfering and controlling. The latter behaviours may be a flag for DFV.

Learn more about domestic and family violence.

In an emergency call 000.

To get help you can call DVConnect Womensline on 1800 811 811 or DVConnect Mensline on 1800 600636, or 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732)

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Last updated: 28 September 2021