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Help! My husband won’t go to the doctor!

Just as they won’t ask for directions, many men avoid seeking medical help. Dr. Gail Saltz on how to deal with stubborn spouses.

Q: My husband refuses to go to the doctor for a check-up. This bothers and worries me. Why is he so adamant about this -- and how can I get him to a doctor’s office?

A: Just as men rarely ask for directions, they often are reluctant to seek medical help. They think: A real man toughs it out.

And the figures bear this out: Men visit doctors less often than women (in part because they do not have to go for annual gynecological exams). They also tend to talk about their bodies and their health less than women do.

In the same vein, some even insist that dangerous and unhealthy behavior will not affect them. They subscribe to the myth that bad things happen to someone else.

A man with a health problem often suffers in silence or waits for the problem to go away. He won’t see a doctor in the absence of a true emergency or unbearable pain.

Why this maddening avoidance of medical care? Fear -- the very people acting unconcerned are often defensive. Deep down, they fear the doctor might discover some sort of illness or problem.

Your husband may say he has no time for the doctor. That’s another defense. People always have time for things that matter.

But, what to do? Here are some tips to help end his procrastination:

  • Tell him you understand he might be afraid of what the doctor will find. Use logic: If there’s no problem, a checkup will show he is perfectly healthy. If there is a problem, it’s better to find out early so it can be treated.
  • Offer to set up the appointment and even go with him. Make it easy.
  • Draw up a list of questions for the doctor. This will emphasize why he should go. Is there a family history of cancer? Back pain that came on suddenly? Something strange growing on his skin?

And if those don't work, tell him you want him to go because you love him. And tell him again.

Dr. Gail’s Bottom Line: Though a man might be reluctant to go to the doctor, logical arguments and true concern can be good motivators.

Dr. Gail Saltz is a psychiatrist with New York Presbyterian Hospital and a regular contributor to “Today.” For more information, you can visit her Web site, Her new book, “Becoming Real: Overcoming the Stories We Tell Ourselves That Hold Us Back,” is to be published in May 2004.

PLEASE NOTE: The information in this column should not be construed as providing specific medical or psychological advice, but rather to offer readers information to better understand their lives and health. It is not intended to provide an alternative to professional treatment or to replace the services of a physician, psychiatrist or psychotherapist. Copyright ©2004 Dr. Gail Saltz. All rights reserved.