Should You Lose Weight to Save Your Marriage?

What to Do When Your Spouse Wants You to Slim Down

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Has your wife's body changed since you got married? Or maybe you are a woman who is frustrated that your husband has fallen out of shape. Is it reasonable to ask your spouse to slim down? In most cases, experts agree that you should never lose weight for someone else. But when your husband or wife asks you to lose weight, there may be more on the line to consider.

Weight Loss and Marriage

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.

Husbands and wives often make changes for the sake of their marriage.

For example, your wife's weight gain might mean that you spend less time together or feel less connected. For example, if two people built a relationship around participation in physical activities and the husband or wife 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.

You might also be concerned about your husband or wife's health. A well-intentioned spouse 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 healthy exercise and eating habits.

Weight and Attractiveness

You might feel that your wife has become less attractive because of her weight. Or maybe your husband doesn't look as fit as he did on his wedding day. So is it reasonable to ask them to change? 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.

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 attractiveness 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,” he says.

Of course, just because your husband or wife 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.

Asking Your Spouse to Lose Weight

What do you do if you want your wife to lose weight and she is resistant? Or what if you are the wife and your husband wants you slim down? One important factor to consider is the language used to make the request.

It's one thing to talk to your partner about how the relationship has changed due to physical activity limitations related to weight gain. Hearing that your partner longs to spend more time with you is very different than simply hearing that they want you to lose weight. Communication is key when it comes to relationships and using the wrong language can be detrimental to the relationship.

Abrams says that asking for a partner to lose weight is no different than asking them for any other significant physical change, such as a body piercing or plastic surgery. It adds conditionality to the relationship.

What Is Conditionality?

In a relationship, conditionality adds an implied "if" to the connection between partners. 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 can add undue pressure to the overweight spouse.

Abrams suggests that if you are the overweight wife or husband and you don't want to lose weight, you can ask your spouse 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?

You might also request that the two of you approach healthier behaviors as a united effort. For example, you can suggest that the two of you take an evening walk together after dinner instead of sitting on the couch watching television. Or you can find a healthy cooking class to take together or investigate healthy vacation options.

Fat Shaming

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, remarks about body size cause shame and humiliation and they are never effective for getting someone to lose weight. For many women, and men, the use of the word "fat" is demeaning.

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.

A Word From Verywell

All marriages go through changes and struggles. If a change in your size or your spouse's 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 your husband or wife chooses to slim down, support him or her by making healthy changes in the home and in your own life so that you can move into a healthier life together. 

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