What to Do When Your Partner Has Gained Weight

Is It OK to Ask Your Spouse to Lose Weight?

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Has your partner's body changed significantly since you got together? Is it reasonable to ask them to lose weight? In most cases, experts are quick to say that no, it's never OK to ask your partner to lose weight for you. However, there may be more on the line to consider.

Weight Gain in a Relationship

There is a common belief that you should never ask your partner to lose weight (or make any physical change) to make you happy. But that simple response may not tell the whole story in the case of a committed relationship.

Your partner's weight gain might mean that you spend less quality time together. For example, if you formerly enjoyed participating in physical activities together and your partner can no longer keep up because of their weight, parts of your relationship may suffer. Evidence shows that working out together increases your emotional bond with your partner.

In the case of significant weight gain, you might also be concerned about your partner's health. For instance, you may be worried that your partner's weight gain is shortening their life and making them more susceptible to chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.

Weight Gain and Attractiveness

You might also feel that your partner has become less attractive because of their weight—that they don't look as fit as they did when you first met or on your wedding day. So is it reasonable to ask them to change on that basis alone? You may be surprised to hear what some experts believe.

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.” Abrams says that all relationships are based on this measure to some extent.

Relative attractiveness describes how partners feel they compare to each other in terms of physical appearance.

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. Though this comparison behavior is in our nature, it's not an excuse for selfish and potentially hurtful demands of your partner.

Just because your partner is overweight does not mean that they are unattractive, nor does it justify demeaning comparisons to others or demands to make changes to their physical appearance solely for your benefit.

Ultimately, in a loving, supportive relationship, relative attractiveness should not be a driving force when it comes to talking to your partner about their weight gain. If you are tempted to encourage your partner to lose weight solely on the basis of its impact on their physical attractiveness in your eyes, it's probably time to stop and ask yourself whether your motives are coming from a place of love—and whether there are other personal or relationship issues at play.

Help Your Partner Live Healthier

Having the desire for your partner to make changes to their lifestyle and even lose weight is, however, completely legitimate when the desire is based on a concern for their health and well-being. In fact, supporting your partner in making healthy habits and living a healthy lifestyle together promotes a stronger bond.

But haphazardly approaching the issue of weight with your partner can have devastating consequences—no matter how good your intentions. How you communicate your concern and support is key.

Here are some tips for how do you broach this tricky topic:

  • Let them take the lead. In general, your partner needs to be the one to bring up concerns about their weight. If and when they do, don't brush them off.
  • Focus on health, not weight. Weight loss isn't about fitting into a pair of jeans. The focus needs to be about your partner's health and behavior; not their weight, and definitely not their appearance. Consider this: Hearing that your partner longs to have more healthy, active years with you is very different than simply hearing that they simply want you to lose weight. 
  • Offer specific support. Research shows that people who lose the most weight are those who have constant support. But don't just say, "I'm here for you," or "If you need anything call me." Go one step further. Ask them if they are struggling and what you can do to help them.
  • Don't guilt-trip or criticize. Nobody is perfect, so stop pointing out their faults. Rather than saying, "You skipped your workout again?" you can say, "I know how important working out is to you. Is there anything I can do to make it easier for you to fit it into your week?"
  • Make it a "couple" thing. People tend to mirror the health behaviors of those around them. A study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that if one partner improved their exercise regime, the other was significantly more likely to follow suit. So, start suggesting activities you can do together, like walking home from dinner, taking a dance class after work, or going on a bike ride.
  • Share your experience, not your advice. It's not your place to give advice, other than suggesting they see their doctor.
  • Never use shame. Making a derogatory remark about your partner's weight or eating habits (otherwise known as "fat-shaming") can have a negative effect on your relationship. Even when the comments are framed as humor, remarks about body size won't motivate your partner to lose weight. In fact, it may actually lead to weight gain.
  • Be understanding. Gaining weight can be a vicious cycle: You gain a few pounds, you get depressed about it, you gain more weight, etc. Sometimes there can be a fine line between insulting and "fat-shaming" your partner and encouraging them.

Never say, "I'll be more attracted to you if you lose weight." Although it might be true, admitting something as harsh as that is never a good strategy.

A Word From Verywell

All relationships go through changes and struggles, and the coronavirus pandemic adds additional strain to individuals and couples. When people are under stress, weight gain is not uncommon, and now may not be the time to encourage change. If a change in your partner's size has become a source of struggle in your relationship, communicating with them in a respectful and loving way is key.

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