When it comes to weight and body image issues, men and women can both suffer from the mental and emotional turmoil that comes with it, and it can affect a relationship both positively and negatively.
Having run both men’s and women’s personal growth and development programs over the past 6yrs, one of the topics that always comes up under personal goals is that of losing weight. Men and women associate body weight goals very differently.
For men, they associate losing weight with getting fit and healthy so that they can be around to provide for their family and children in the long term and do physical activities with their kids.
For women, they associate weight loss more with wanting to feel better about themselves and have more self-confidence, self-esteem and feel more attractive for their partners.
Is it common for weight loss to affect a relationship?
Yes weight loss (or gain) is something that often comes up in relationships between couples, especially when it starts to impact their intimacy and sex life. It can also cause resentment issues where one partner is physically active and has a social circle and interests outside of their relationship that their partner is not a part of, or cannot relate to as they are not physically active themselves.
Why does this happen?
Weight loss or gain changes how we see our partner in the physical sense. When a partner gains/loses a substantial amount of weight, it can feel like we are with a stranger as they are not the same person we fell in love with or have been used to seeing each day. We lose our sense of familiarity and it can feel like they have become someone else such as being:
- more social and outgoing due to being more active and confident within themselves and their physical appearance.
- more withdrawn and unsociable as they are more self-conscious about how they look and feel and how they perceive others see them.
Can a drastic physical change have an impact on your relationship with your significant other?
Yes, besides the physical change in appearance, it can also affect us on an emotional level. If a partner has put on a large amount of weight it can be off putting both physically and on an emotional level where we just don’t feel attracted to our partner anymore. Often we don’t know how to communicate this with our partner for fear of hurting their feelings so we avoid telling them. It can also potentially clash with some of our own personal values and unconscious biases or stereotyping (e.g. a fat person = a lazy person).
Sometimes there can be underlying medical reasons as to why someone’s physique has changed such as thyroid and hormone issues which can be a daily challenge to manage.
Where a partner has lost a significant amount of weight it can cause underlying issues of potential jealousy, resentment and insecurities. We may feel that our partner has moved on and living a new life (e.g. more confident, healthier and active lifestyle), and potentially even have new friends or social activities as a result of their weight loss journey.
What are some of the adjustments one may need to make as a result of drastic weight loss?
It would depend on how much weight a person has lost, if it is a significant amount then it can potentially feel like we have lost the equivalent of ‘a limb, small person or more’. This would entail having to adjust our lifestyle accordingly from the food we eat, what clothes we wear and what physical activities we participate in to how we engage and interact with others. It can be a whole new way of living and lifestyle for someone.
Can this have a negative impact on the relationship, even if it was done for health reasons?
Irrespective of whether it was done for health reasons or not, it largely depends on the relationship of the couple and how they support each other in achieving their respective health goals. It’s important to communicate with each other along the way as to what your goals are, how you can be supportive in the process and the role you play in their journey. Possibly even look to take on the journey and goal together as a couple.
How should couples deal with drastic physical changes and how it affects their relationship?
When a couple feels secure in their relationship and each other, they can withstand any storm together including drastic physical changes. Most important is to talk about what you are feeling and not shut your partner out. Be supportive and happy for your partner who is making significant changes that has huge health benefits for them and you. This means they will potentially be around a lot longer for you and your family due to their good health and well-being.
How can a couple ultimately improve their relationship and embrace the changes?
Shared experiences create stronger bonds and a weight loss goal is no different. Especially when couples can see it as a positive outcome where both will benefit in the long run. Most important as in any situation, and relationship, is communication. Pre-, during and post- the journey – always share with each other where you are at, what is going on for you, and how you are feeling. This way your partner knows how to support you, how to be there for you and you both grow together in the process.
Communication = connection and when there is connection, a strong bond and relationship follows. When partners feel acknowledged, valued and a priority, they are better able to deal with stress, conflict, change and be your biggest cheer leader in the process.
Paula Quinsee: Relationship Expert and Life Coach. Helping men, women and organisations expand and maximize their energy for high performance and resilience, at work and in life. Mental Health and GBV advocate. Paula is also an international speaker and author of Embracing Conflict and Embracing No. More info: https://paulaquinsee.com/