It's a difficult predicament, but it's not uncommon: after years in a committed relationship one partner has gained a significant amount of weight and the other partner has remained trim. Does this situation sound familiar?
Has weight gain affected your marriage?
What should you do when your spouse or your partner wants you to lose weight? It may be reasonable to slim down to save the relationship, but before you decide what to do, consider your options and the different ways in which your decision may affect your long-term commitment.
Should I lose weight to save my relationship?
There is a common belief that you should never lose weight (or make any physical change) to make other people happy. But that simple response may not tell the whole story in the case of a committed relationship. Partners often make changes to their behavior or to their lifestyles for the sake of their marriage.
In some cases, one partner's weight gain may mean that the couple spends less time together or feels less connected. For example, if two people built a relationship around participation in physical activities and one partner can no longer participate, the quality of the relationship may suffer. In that case, both partners may choose to find another bonding activity or the overweight partner could choose to trim down.
Worries about the way weight is affecting your medical health may also prompt a conversation between partners or spouses. A well-intentioned husband or wife may ask their partner to lose weight simply over concern for their longevity and well-being. If a spouse is willing to lose weight, it may be an opportunity for both partners to adopt new health, exercise and eating habits.
Should I lose weight to stay attractive?
Another key issue in most relationships is physical attractiveness. Dr. Mike Abrams, a board certified clinical psychologist and psychology professor at New York University says that it can be appropriate to lose weight when there is a significant disparity in the size of the spouses.
Dr. Abrams authored a book called The Art and Science of Rational Eating, which explores weight loss topics including body image and body acceptance. He says, “When one person becomes heavier, it changes the balance of relative attractiveness.” Relative attractiveness describes how partners feel they compare to each other in terms of physical appearance. Abrams says that all relationships are based on this measure to some extent.
The other sad truth, says Abrams, is that even when people are in committed relationships, they are “looking to upgrade.” It is part of our nature to see other potential mates and to imagine how we measure up or would pair up with different candidates. Abrams discusses how this difficult truth can play out when there has been a significant change in one partner's appearance.
“When you change the attractiveneness balance in a relationship, you encourage your mate to look for that upgrade more zestfully, and at the same time you diminish your own ability to upgrade.”
Of course, just because a spouse is overweight does not mean that they are unattractive, nor does it justify an upgrade. But any change in appearance has the potential to change the way each partner views the other partner's physical attractiveness.
How do I handle pressure from my spouse to lose weight?
What do you do if you are not ready to lose weight, but your partner still asks you to do so? Abrams says that asking for a partner to lose weight is no different than asking them for any other significant physical change like a body piercing or plastic surgery. It adds conditionality to the relationship.
In a relationship, conditionality adds an implied "if" to the connection between partners. For example, if you want your partner to lose weight in order to be more attractive, the implied conditional statement is: I'll be more attracted to you if you lose weight. That kind of statement, implied or not, can add undue pressure to the overweight spouse.
Abrams suggests that if you don't want to lose weight, ask your partner to wait until you are ready to make the change on your own. He also suggests that you offer an offset.
An offset may involve investigating whether or not the request for weight loss is really about weight. In some cases, it may be about something different, like your ability to participate in physical activities. Abrams suggests asking the following questions: Is this all you are really unhappy about? Are there other things we can work on in the relationship?
What if my partner makes derogatory remarks about my weight?
When a friend or acquaintance makes a derogatory remark about your weight, it's bad enough. But when those comments come from a spouse, the harmful effects can be devastating. Even when the comments are framed as humor, derogatory remarks about body size cause shame and humiliation, and they are never effective for getting someone to lose weight.
Dr. Abrams suggests that both partners must explore the anger and hostility behind the comments. It is essential, he says, to find out why there is a desire to humiliate a loved one. In some cases, this conversation can happen with the help of a counselor or marriage therapist.
All marriages go through changes and struggles. If a change in your size has become the source of one of those struggles, communicate with your partner and take the time to make a decision that is right for you and right for your relationship. If you do choose to slim down, encourage your spouse to support you by making healthy changes in the home and by offering supportive gestures as you move through your weight loss journey.