A little of background: my fiancé is dealing with depression. She had a very hard time when she was mostly laying in bed, crying and being anxious. Now, thanks to medicine she's taking, psychotherapy, changes in our life routine and our (relatives' and friends') assistance, she's getting well. Most of the time she has energy, mood, and plans, though she needs to be careful not to get too tired and not to forget about medicine.

During this lying-in-bed-and-crying period, she wasn't moving a lot, not to say about going outside. As a result, she gained some weight. Now, given that she is getting better, she wants to make her body the way she likes it. So we've started some sports together (bouldering, running, and athletics). We go easy on that, we've got plenty of time and we're trying to have joy. We both know that after some weeks of regular suffering, sport starts to give you joy and you become dependent on it (we both have sports background). But now, we need to go through the unpleasant part, when the body tries to stop you from exercising.

We do not track our activity and weight loss as it is suggested in comments. I think it's a good idea and we'll try it.

So, my fiancé explicitly asked me to help motivate her. E.g. when she tells me she exercised today, or when we together go bouldering or running, she would've felt more motivated if I'd make something for her or I don't know what. I'm trying to notice every good moment and even her trials and I always compliment her on this, but I feel that's not enough.

So, the question is: how to motivate or reward a person on exercising?

I need something that can be done quick, best of all immediately and many times. If it can be done over the phone/internet (when we both are in our workplace) it would be perfect. Please remember she has depression: that means she can out of sudden get tired, lie on the floor and start crying. That's because she hasn't gained enough power yet. I do realise that rewarding too many times can be diminising the value of reward, so it's better if I could vary different types of reward or motivation.

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    Rewarding too many times might have diminishing effects. Sep 14, 2017 at 12:59
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    Do you keep track of what you do? Any book with how long we ran today, how much weight she's lost so far? This kind of stuff?
    – OldPadawan
    Sep 14, 2017 at 13:11
  • @OldPadawan I was just thinking about keeping an exercise log! Sep 14, 2017 at 13:13
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    Rewarding too many times might have diminishing effects, yes, I'm trying to avoid it by finding new ways. Exercise log is a good idea. And, speeking of bouldering, I think the progress is visible, I myself find it motivating, but she is dependent on mood. Sometimes she is happy when she've climbed a new track, and sometimes she becomes sad when one precise element isn't in her ability.
    – ba3a
    Sep 14, 2017 at 13:27
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    @Hamlet : OP gives a parameter (depression), that's in fact, important when it comes to dealing with the question how to motivate...?. It's not at all about the depression and the medical aspect of it, but the motivation. And, IMHO, it's much more important than the location in this case...
    – OldPadawan
    Sep 14, 2017 at 16:26

4 Answers 4


I recently faced depression (the last six months) and as your fiancée, I aimed to heal through sports and good nutrition. Just like her, I really appreciated when my boyfriend encouraged me. The "rewards" and congrats that could work with her entirely depend on which love language(s) she's receptive to, but here are a few things that worked with my boyfriend and I:

  • Little post-its, mails saying "You've done great", "You're beautiful", "You're getting stronger and stronger!", ... She can keep it and re-read them when she's feeling low, which is great.
  • Cuddling. If she's receptive to physical touch, it could make her feel so good.

  • I know it could sound silly, but writing her a set of letters like "here are the reasons why I love you", "open when you feel sad", with little jokes in it, pictures of you two, a playlist of your favorite songs, could bring her smile too. I really love writing and receiving these letters. They help me going through hard times.

It is not necessarily related to her physical activity and the progress she makes, but IMO it still reminds her that you're here for her and that she has your full support.

Now as you stated, once you overcame the pain faced when beginning (again) a physical activity, things are immediately easier and the mind gets in peace soon.

I hope she'll get better soon.


Why not create a coupon booklet?

Bare with me, but you could create a coupon booklet (hand drawn) for nice things you'd like to do for your partner as a reward for exercising, consisting of various rewards you can cut out and give to her.

So, let's say as an example she exercises four times a week or goes up a colour in bouldering, or loses her target weight, she earns credits towards whatever items in the coupon book you do, she can cash them in or store them for a bigger reward (the size is up to you). Could be anything from home-cooked dinner, a night at the cinema, a foot massage etc.. Whatever it is, you know she likes and you feel comfortable giving it out, do it. This will not only motivate her towards goals in exercising, it'll motivate her towards a romantic gesture from you. Also, the credits can be given over the phone/the internet and the rewards can be done, when you're both free.

This is what I used to do with my ex-girlfriend, she suffered from bipolar disorder and it was hard for her to get out of the house some days. So, I used to motivate her by offering things I knew she liked, in exchange for things she didn't like to do (i.e. leaving the house). It makes this easier for you to bring the idea to her and see if she likes it because she asked you to motivate her and go from there.

  • That's a pretty good idea, I did something similar with my own girlfriend, who became a shut-in, and it's worked out pretty well
    – user3399
    Sep 14, 2017 at 13:31
  • Well, the idea of coupons is good. But I don't know how to use. E.g. foot massage: I can give her a coupon and she can use it when she wants to get a massage. Perfect. But if, for example, she didn't want a massage and did want, I don't know, a bicycle ride. And I didn't make a coupon for bicycle ride, cause I couldn't thought of it at the time I made coupons. What should I do? Refuse it? Requalificate a coupon?
    – ba3a
    Sep 14, 2017 at 13:42
  • @ba3a she has credits, so she can just cash it in for whatever she wants at that value. You have a few rewards that cost one credit, a few that cost two credits, etc.. so she has a choice on what she might be up for doing and let her look through the booklet before you start so she can give/take ideas (also nice to throw in a few question mark ones, so you can surprise her based on stuff you know she loves (if she likes surprises)) Sep 14, 2017 at 13:44
  • And one more moment: when she ask me to do something for her, it's my pleasure and joy to do as she desires (if I'm able). But with coupons, how it is supposed to be regulated? When she has no coupons, should I refuse any actions with her? Or when she has and I'm busy or tired, should I do what she want without my will?
    – ba3a
    Sep 14, 2017 at 13:45
  • You just keep track of how many credits she has (the already used or cashed coupons will be ripped out), I feel like if you're committing to this, you might have to do some things you don't like for the greater good of her being motivated. What I did was that I have to do whatever is on the coupon within 7 days of her cashing it in, we'd agree on a day if we're busy etc.. Sep 14, 2017 at 13:47

You know this already but I feel like emphasizing that this is a journey you are embarking on together. Her loosing weight is going to be a team effort whether your goal is to lose some weight with her or not.

I've always had conflicted views on rewarding "good" behaviors and this is because people tend to rely on external sources or others to do what they need to do for themselves. An ex-boyfriend of mine, would always get paid from his parents for helping them even about minor things and as a result he never offered to help them on his own.

Ideally, seeing results should help her feel self-motivated. The results-losing weight-feeling better about herself-are the reward. But because your fiancée is still depressed and not strong enough, rewarding and motivating her in the beginning and not constantly (and without pressuring her), might help her get strong enough to do it for herself.

What you can do in addition to Bradley's coupon booklet (I wish I had one just cause it's awesome) is to:

  • Discuss her goals. How much weight would she want to lose in a week, month and what the best exercise routine is. How many days, what time during the day and so on.

  • Keep an exercise log. Fill it out together or take turns filling it out for each other and discussing the results. This is what my fitness professor in university had us do. It helped me track my progress, and having to fill it out gave me a sense of self-discipline.

  • Make a scrapbook about it. Add pictures of you exercising together, pictures of your bodies, words of encouragement, put stickers on...Get creative together. Make it fun.

Your support and encouragement is vital and it sounds like you will be exercising together which is really helpful. Always ask for her contribution and additional ideas.


I suffer from clinical depression myself. Years ago, I read the book A Noonday Demon, which is about depression in general and the author's experience own experience with it. As described in this article, the author, Andrew Solomon, believes:

the most representative traits of depression are the inability to love and a lack of energy or motivation. For example, not being able to act, a lack of appetite, and diminished enthusiasm.

Identifying "lack of motivation" as one of the defining characteristics of depression really resonated with me. That was exactly how I experienced my illness--I knew I should get up and shower, but what was the point, and it would have required so much energy that I just didn't have to spare. And the knowledge that I would feel better afterwards didn't make a darn bit of difference.

I am sharing this information because, in your girlfriend's place, the most valuable reward I could have received was to have someone acknowledge that motivation is a major challenge, and acknowledge/praise me for pushing through this difficulty anyway. Tell her how proud you are of her for getting to the gym, going for a swim, etc. I would bet that demonstrating your understanding of her success at overcoming the motivational challenges will feel much more rewarding to her than seems possible to someone who hasn't suffered from major depression.

  • Thank you. Your advice to focus on motivation is valuable, cause all the time we were concentrating on goals, thinking the goals themselves would give us motivation or the achievements may help.
    – ba3a
    Sep 15, 2017 at 12:56

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