Ask Dr. Mike

By Michael Oberschneider, Psy.D.

Dr. Mike

Dr. Mike,

My husband has gone on an insane health kick that is causing us a lot of problems. I don’t know what to do. He’s lost his mind with diet and exercise; and it started in April after he started working from home because of COVID-19.  

He’s lost 65 pounds on the Keto Diet and he exercises all the time. I guess I should be happy for him, but we don’t see him anymore. He won’t eat meals with us because of his diet, and we hardly see him in the evenings or weekends due to his exercise routines.  

Our children miss their dad, and I miss my husband.  I’ve told him how I feel, but he tells me that I’m the one with the problem. He says it’s absurd that I’m punishing him for being healthy.  

He’s training for an Iron Man, trying to get to a 10 percent body fat content. How does someone change all at once like this? 

– Help in Loudoun

Dear Help, 

It’s one thing to prioritize wellness, but it’s entirely another thing to have diet and exercise dominate your life; extremes usually aren’t good, and extreme behaviors oftentimes have an underlying cause.  

You haven’t provided any background information, so it’s impossible for me to fully analyze the possible contributing factors to your husband’s sudden and drastic commitment toward health.

COVID-19 has been challenging, and it’s possible that he’s compensating with diet and exercise to cushion the associated stresses.  Vaping and alcohol consumption is way up, and like people who are engaging in these behaviors excessively to feel better, your husband could be doing the same with diet and exercise.  

The inability to do normal things, the lack of personal space and too much togetherness, are some of the factors that have strained couple’s during COVID-19, so this may be the main culprit here. 

I think you should sit down with your husband again to let him know that you’re happy about the healthy changes he’s made in his life, and that you support his pursuing a healthier lifestyle. But you have some concerns. 

Rather than sharing that his behaviors are excessive, I would focus on your feelings and needs. Let him know that family meals are important, and that it would mean a lot to you and the children for him to be present for them, He can prepare his own food, but you’d like to eat as a family. You could let him know that his presence during family activities in the evening and on weekends is also missed.  

If he’s not receptive, schedule a consultation with a couple’s therapist, to help the two of you bridge your communication and respective expectations.  

Dr. Mike,

My husband has been offered a promotion to a new position on the West Coast, but his company needs him to relocate by March.  If he doesn’t accept, they will give him a severance package, and then he will be without a job.   

The move would have a higher salary, but I know for certain that moving abruptly will be difficult on our three children. It will be especially difficult for our two older children in high school.  My parents live in NOVA and my husband’s parents live two hours away. So the children will lose their connection to their grandparents. 

He wants to go; and I don’t.  His point is that he has a very high position (VP), and jobs like his don’t come along every day.  My position is that he should put his family first, and money second.  Even with my not working, we have invested well, and even if he’s out of work for a period of time, I’m confident that he will find a good job in the area. 

– Help in Loudoun

Dear Help,

I agree that your children’s needs should be a big part of the decision you make as a family. Your husband’s point that finding employment as a VP could take time, is a valid one.  In his sector higher level positions may not open often, and he may indeed remain unemployed for an extended period, or he may need to settle for a lesser position in the area, if he rejects the offer.  

I think the two of you need to evaluate your finances and your long-term goals. If your husband doesn’t relocate, how long can you maintain your current standard of living?  Could not relocating impact your retirement plans?  

Rather than thinking of your situation as all or nothing, is there the possibility of a compromise? This could include your husband relocating to the West Coast on his own, and flying back and forth for visits until the end of the school year. COVID-19 has demonstrated that teams don’t need to always work physically together, and perhaps he could take the role, while remaining virtual a portion of the time? 

With the likelihood of virtual learning continuing, perhaps your children could try to complete the year in their current schools virtually from the West Coast?  This may allow them to maintain social connections, which would be harder to do in a new school, when managing social distance. 

If you consider this on a trial basis, your family could make the move and see if there are benefits to the new town, and how they feel about it while still attending NOVA schools.  

If at the end of the school year the children’s struggles seem to great, then perhaps your husband could start a job search back in NOVA, with the added benefit of his higher title and broadened experience.  

As a psychologist who works a lot with families, children and teens adjust fine to work related relocations, as long as the approach to the transition and new experience is reasonable. The key is to support each other, to listen to each other, and to maintain an open mind to new experiences as a family.

Michael Oberschneider, Psy.D., “Dr. Mike” is a clinical psychologist in private practice. He can be reached at 703-723-2999, and is located at 44095 Pipeline Plaza, Suite 240, Ashburn.

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