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How losing weight can come between you and your mate

Teresa Tanoos's picture
Losing weight together

Many couples go on a diet together to lose weight, not just for their health, but also because they think losing weight will make them more attractive to their partner. However, a new study has recently found that when only one partner loses weight, serious problems can develop in the relationship.

Researchers from North Carolina State University and the University of Texas at Austin collaborated on the study, finding that there may indeed be a "dark side" to losing weight in a romantic relationship, especially if only one partner succeeds.

As a result, lead study author, Dr. Lynsey Romo of North Carolina State, wants couples to be aware that when one member of a couple experiences a significant weight loss it can spell trouble for the relationship.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Dr. Romo points out that communication is the key to healthy relationships – and such communication is critical for working through any problems that may be created when one of them loses a significant amount of weight.

The study involved 21 couples (42 adults) from the United States. Each couple had a partner who lost at least 60 pounds within a two year period or less. Some of them lost the weight through diet and exercise, whereas others underwent bypass surgery to slim down.

For the study, all 42 adults were given questionnaires, which asked questions that each of them was required to answer regarding the weight loss and how it had affected their relationship.

What the researchers learned as a result was that, generally speaking, communication between the partners had improved after the weight was lost – due, in part, because the partner who lost the weight became more vocal about the positive effect the weight loss had on their health in an effort to encourage their significant other to also start or otherwise continue a healthy lifestyle.

Of course, not every couple experienced an improvement in communication, but those that did reported it was because both partners were supportive of a healthier lifestyle.

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Indeed, such couples also reported experiencing more positive interactions overall, including an improved sex life and greater emotional intimacy.

Sadly, some couples experienced just the opposite, with one partner’s weight loss having a negative impact on their relationship. For example, some of the partners who lost weight started to nag the other one to do the same, resulting in increased tension and resentment between the two.

For other couples, it was the partner who hadn’t lost weight who reported experiencing feelings of insecurity and fear that their newly thin partner would leave them if they didn’t lose weight – and, unfortunately, it was these partners who were also the most resistant to change in their relationship.

These more negative partners would frequently be critical of their loved one’s weight loss success, while also showing less interest in sexual intimacy. Some would even go to great lengths to sabotage their partner’s success with fattening foods to tempt them to eat more and make them gain weight in an effort to prevent their thinner mate, as well as the relationship, from changing.

According to Dr. Romo, the researchers found that when one partner successfully managed to lose a significant amount of weight while improving their health, the other partner would react in either a variety of positive or negative ways.

The best outcome occurred when both partners were supportive of each other and also supportive of incorporating a healthier lifestyle. In these couples, Dr. Romo said that weight loss appeared to make the relationship closer. But when partners resented the other’s weight loss success and resisted the incorporation of a healthier lifestyle, it created problems in the relationship.

Dr. Romo added that this study should not discourage people from trying to lose weight. Rather, it should encourage them to weigh the possible "pros and cons” their weight loss may have on the couple’s romantic relationship.

In other words, before entering any weight loss program, communicate to your partner how much you need their love and support – and be aware of the possible pitfalls that losing weight can have on a relationship so you can be prepared to deal with it, instead of allowing anyone to sabotage your efforts.

SOURCE: North Carolina State University. Weighty Dynamics: Exploring Couples' Perceptions of Post-Weight-Loss Interaction, published October 24, 2013 in Health Communication.