Mixed-Weight Couples and Relationship Conflicts

I have written before about relationship problems and weight loss, but today I wanted to focus on a study that I saw about mixed-weight couples and relationship conflicts.

Have you ever seen a couple where one person is a normal weight and the other is overweight? I know I have. In fact, I used to be the heavy one in my own marriage as evidenced by this picture.

I often felt like John and I didn’t “match” in appearance and I wondered whether other people looked at us and felt sorry for John that he was married to such an overweight person. Fortunately for me, John never made me feel badly about weighing 300 pounds or not being able to fit into normal-sized clothing. I’m eternally thankful that he really was always supportive.

However, this isn’t always the case and many relationships suffer from conflicts over weight.

In fact, I was at an event recently where I was the featured speaker. Before I did my presentation, a middle-aged man came up to me and started to ask me questions about my weight loss. He asked how long it took, how many years I had kept the weight off, and what my husband thought. I answered his questions and then was surprised to hear him say, “My wife is huge.”

“Oh,” I said. (I know that wasn’t the most intelligent thing to say at that moment, but he caught me by surprise.)

He went on to say, “She is so big that I find her unattractive and I was wondering if hearing your story might inspire her.”

This time I said, “Well, I don’t know if it will or not, but I hope that she feels supported by you because that can really help her as she tries to get to a healthier weight.” He looked at me with doubt. I continued on, “Seriously. The last thing she needs to hear is criticism from you because I promise you – she already says all those things to herself.”

He then said that he tried to be supportive but it was hard. I told him I understood but that I hoped he would really try.

Then, I read this study which showed that couples who are of mixed-weight, meaning one is normal sized and one is overweight, do often have relationship conflicts. Interestingly enough, the most conflicts seem to occur when the woman is overweight and the man is of a normal size.

I couldn’t decide whether I was surprised by that fact or not. After mulling it over for a bit I wasn’t all that surprised because that is what I have heard quite a few times over the years. Men complain to me about their wives weight, but the wives rarely complain about their husband’s weight. Of course there are always exceptions to this.

The main thing for us to consider not whether men or women are more critical of their spouses, but how to handle that criticism. Learning to handle criticism can help you continue on your own path and not let your significant other derail your progress or stop you from working on getting to a healthier weight. Oftentimes those criticisms make us want to eat, eat, eat just to get back at your partner although those behaviors just end up hurting ourselves.

Ignore It

This is easier said than done isn’t it? It can be hard to ignore unkind or snide comments from your significant other, but that’s the path of least resistance. I’ve known many women who learned to “hear” the comment or negative remark and decide they weren’t going to listen and managed to not let the comment drive them into overeating. Of course that takes practice and may not be the best for the relationship.

Confront It

Confrontation is never easy but when done with care it can help bring unhealthy behaviors into the open. You may want to consider consulting a therapist to help you navigate this type of solution. I’ve had women tell me that when they finally told their spouse how the negative comments made themfeel inside, their spouse made a concerted effort to stop.

Learn to Cope Without Sabotaging

No relationship is perfect. If you are the overweight partner in your relationship and cannot get your spouse to stop their criticisms or comments, it is very important that you not allow another person to trigger unhealthy eating behaviors. Although my husband was great, my friends were not. They did say mean things about my weight and I often “got back” at them by eating more. That was an unhealthy response. When I finally began to lose weight, I channeled my tendency to overeat when mean things were said into a burst of energy I used exercising, getting stuff done around the house, or journaling.

No one should be criticized for their appearance, and if you are, I am sorry. I know how that feels and hope that you are able to move past the negativity and stay motivated to continue on your healthy path.

Have you seen mixed-weight couples where one spouse seems to “pick-pick-pick” at the heavier spouse? Any suggestions for that behavior? Diane

34 thoughts on “Mixed-Weight Couples and Relationship Conflicts

  1. Joy says:

    I truly believe that the person who is overweight will only lose weight when they are ready. There is nothing a partner can say to make them lose weight. I think it is awful when I see couples pick at each.. The only think the “normal” partner can do is be support when they are ready to lose weight. Like yourself I have be super lucky to have a boyfriend of eight years love me at any weight and never once did he make me feel bad about my body.

  2. katty says:

    Great post! I was in an abusive relationship and what you described (nasty comment, more eating) was the most common scenario. Only after I divorced and several years had passed, I was able to start making loving comments and being kind to myself. It was only then that I was able to start modifiying my eating habits. Some spouses, family and friends mean well and just want to open your eyes to the fact that you’re fat, but nobody tells them they are doing it wrong and it gets the opposite result. You did. Thanks.

  3. Leah says:

    Being a formerly fat wife, who was never model thin to begin with, but put on 30 pounds in the first year of marriage this is a rather touchy subject for me. My husband (of 17 years) was rail thin from the beginning, and is now at his heaviest, but still in a healthy weight range. I have to say your advice to that man was spot on — the best thing my husband has ever done for me regarding my weight, and in recent years my weight loss, is support me and love me as I am.

    I know one blog author whose husband told her he deserved for her to lose weight. Apparently she had gained weight after they were married and he even commented this on her blog. I was outraged. Quite honestly I don’t know that any outside person can do anything to help when a normal weight spouse picks on their overweight partner. My choice is to pray for the couple and if the overweight person is someone I know then I just love them and support them when/if they attempt to lose weight.

    As for the blogger husband…I believe he did start working on his attitude and realizing that weight issues were hard for his wife and he needed to be a bit more understanding. As the blogging dwindled down I never heard if there was a happy ending to her weight loss journey.

  4. Contemplative FItness says:

    I will only say that few tings have come close to pushing me out of a fitness career during the past 30 years. This topic is one of them. It sickens me. My experience is that it’s largely a male trait — I have seen this much more with husbands than with wives.

    I will never understand or accept this behavior from husbands of my weight loss clients. It mills me that women tolerate it, because it’s just another form of abuse/

  5. Gwen /Sunny says:

    Yeah…I divorced him. Seriously. It went from displeasure to the point where he actually told me that he wanted us to look our best “for the few good years we have left:, to “if you don’t lose all the weight I’m going to have an affair.”

    I kid not.

    I didn’t have the confidence at the time to tell him to go to hell, but when I discovered a few months later that he WAS having an affair (ok I didn’t discover it, he flat out told me, crying in guilt)…it was the catalyst to leave him. And I did. Then I proceeded to lose all of the weight. (although it didn’t stay off.) I went on to find a wonderful man who loves me unconditionally, and he’s still cheating on girlfriend after girlfriend.

    Revenge is a dish best served cold.

    Has he told me, in the past 10 years since, that he agrees he was a jerk? Yes. And we were married 24 years, then again another 6, before the final split. So there was a LOT of time invested. I never realized he was that shallow and that incapable of unconditional love. I once asked him ‘what would happen if I lost one or both breasts to cancer?’ His reply ‘that’s not the same because that would be out of your control.’ While true, it didn’t matter. He didn’t love me unconditionally, and he threatened me with unfaithfulness, and once he followed through with his threats, I realized I was going to be better off without him.

    Most men won’t go that far, I don’t think. I just was attached to a jerk. But I’m happy now, and that’s what matters. I don’t think he ever will be.

  6. Dr. J says:

    I’ve heard that in the vast majority of couples there is a balance between what each brings to the relationship.

    When I saw the women that Henry Kissinger was dating, it all became much clearer to me 🙂

    • Babbalou says:

      That brings back memories, Dr. J – photos of a somewhat rumpled- looking Kissinger with a drop-dead gorgeous woman who was often half his age and a good foot taller!

      Married 28 years this Saturday, I always said the secret to our successful marriage was that I was looking for entertainment and my husband was looking for an audience. And by the way, during the decade I was as much as 30 pounds overweight, he NEVER told me I was fat although on occasion he did ask “honey, are you SURE you want to eat that?”

  7. Diane Carbonell says:

    I like Dr. J’s answer. A male professor once told me it is because men are so much more visually stimulated while women are more about how the man makes her feel emotionally. I would imagine there is some truth to that.

    • Janis says:

      I remember being on the thin end of a thin-big relationship, and it ended up making ME feel rotten emotionally in some ways. We had other issues that doomed the whole thing, but although I never said anything about his size because well … that was just how he was and it’s not like I didn’t know it … I do remember gradually becoming annoyed that he wouldn’t maintain his weight/appearance because he felt quite free to say things like, “Is that what you’re wearing?” when we went out. Dressing up and wearing cosmetics takes time and effort, not to mention money. And that attitude made me think that he was seeing it as analogous to scrubbing the toilet: something he could pretend to not pay attention to so that I’d cave in and do it, that it was my job to make things sexy and his to just sit back and enjoy that.

      Like I said, the relationship was doomed for other reasons, but it did start to bug me after a while only because apparently as the woman, my appearance was automatically a topic for discussion, but he didn’t reciprocate any effort. So there’s one instance where an inequality in size/appearance/whatever turned into an emotional thing. It’s strange how these things can all tangle up together.

  8. Kara says:

    I’m so glad you talked to the husband about the importance of support. I hope he takes your words to heart because his lack of support can make things worse. I imagine she now has anxiety about food and dieting and will deeepen anytime he nags her. This anxiety will trigger hunger and overeating.

    My husband is very supportive. He’s a stockier guy, but he never complained when I weighed more than him. Having said that, if someone says something to me about my weight, I have no problem responding directly. Years and years ago, a boyfriend took food away from me and in a cutesy way said, “no more food for you.” He got a not so cute response, but never said anything like that again.

    Nowadays, I don’t use that edge, but I would respond with confidence, determination and knowledge, with the goal to educate rather than leave the door open for futher nagging. If it came up again, I would repeat, repeat, repeat.

  9. Joe says:

    My wife and I have both had our weight fluctuate up and down since we were dating. We are supportive and accomadate eachother for sure. I think it’s also motivating when one of us makes improvements because that usally motivates the other. For example when I started my journey my wife didn’t jump in. Fast forward 4 months and 40 pounds and my wife signed up for a gym membership and runs as well.

  10. Amanda says:

    Oh holy cow, my mother.

    My father has been obese for most of the past… 20 years? Maybe longer. There was a time or two in there where he dropped a large chunk of weight (in excess of 70 lbs) and sweetness and light would reign… until my mother then started fretting that my father was getting addicted to exercise.

    Really? Really Mom? He does what you want, but then he’s not doing it right (even though he was — diet and exercise)?

    Sigh. That’s a huge reason why the shame-shame techniques are a major turn-off to me. They just don’t work. If a person wants to lose weight and puts in the effort, it will happen. If not, all the badgering in the world won’t effect change.

  11. vickie says:

    I did not read the comments (above).

    I have a very hard time with this whole concept, because being hugely over weight is a real health issue. And it usually a psychological issue. And it is often an addiction issue. We would not respect a spouse who was accepting of a drug or alcohol or shopaholic addiction. I am not saying criticism is acceptable. But enabling is also not acceptable.

    This is a tough issue because NO one is going to change the over weight person’s thoughts/actions until they are ready to change themselves.

    What is the spouse to do? I honestly do not know.

    Diane I think your husband and my husband were both enabling. They went out to dinner (way too often) with us, for example. I honestly think that my husband simply did not want to rock the boat.

    But again, I am not sure what they could have done.

    I have a friend right now who has a severely over weight husband who is diabetic and has sores on one foot that are infected and will not heal. That foot is probably coming off. Then he will have sores on the other foot and on the stump where his prosthetic fits from all that weight. And they will become infected and will not heal. He will not take action to help himself. He does not exercise. He continues to eat to stay diabetic.

    She is in my pilates class. Yesterday, walking to the car, I was thinking about this very issue. Because I know what her life is going to be like (this is the road my mother went down with her second husband). And I was walking to the car, I thought – I have this set of feelings about what she should not put up with to protect her future life/freedom.And to protect her time and life with her out of town adult children and grandchildren.

    But if it were HER with the symptoms caused by weight, I might expect him to take care of her. I might think poorly of him if the roles were reversed and he made a stand. That is what I thought on the way to the car.

    And that could have been me. I have insulin resistance tenancies. I could choose to eat so I was diabetic. I could choose to eat so I was morbidly obese. I could choose to eat so I had problems with all my secondary conditions. I could choose not to work on all my inner stuff so that the outward sign (fat) was still in my life.

    I do not know what the answer is other than enabling is wrong.

  12. Dukebdc says:

    The most uncomfortable social outing I can remember was on a trip to Las Vegas with my best friend from high school and her husband. My friend has been overweight most of her life, and she fluctuates up and down, up and down. At this dinner, her husband sharply questioned what she was going to order, kept questioning her after she DID order, and had a stream of comments once her food arrived. “Are you really going to eat all that? Why don’t you leave most of the steak on the plate?” “Why do you have a baked potato too?” “No way are you ordering dessert.” And on and on…it was horrible to watch, and I’ll admit I was too embarassed to say anything.

    Now, knowing my friend and her long-term weight battle, she may have asked her husband to say something if he thought she was overindulging on the trip, but the way he did it was just so….awful. I got her alone later that week and just asked her if she was happy in her marriage, and she said everything was fine. Who knows? But the best marriage advice I got is that you alone cannot change your spouse’s behavior. You can only decide if its something you can tolerate or not.

  13. Shannon says:

    It makes me so sad to know that spouses can be mean to each other about weight. I am very lucky that way but both my hubby and I are over weight. Our biggest obstacle is that from day one our relationship was based around food. Every date, celebration, sad time, happy time, everything. 14 years later we are trying to find other things to do if we go out. It is an odd place to be with its own set of issues. So even though we are both the same it still has its problems.
    One thing I have to say is if someone is in a relationship that they are being treated badly because of their physical appearance there needs to be more help than just weight loss. That is not normal to treat someone you love badly. Concern and support are completely different than nagging and saying mean things. No one deserves that ever for any reason!

  14. Erin says:

    I really only see this in couples where the woman has had children. Most of my immediate friends it tends to be more overweight husband, thinner wife.

    We’re the opposite, though my husband did gain weight with both my pregnancies 😉 so he’s slightly overweight now. He was also biking 200 miles or so a week before we had kids and hasn’t changed his eating to reflect the change in exercise.

  15. CBird05 says:

    My husband and I are both overweight. We’ve only been married a little over 5 years, second marriage for both of us. I’ve gained weight since we got married and so has he, although he’s about 350 now, at one time in his life he weighed 880 lbs (had stomach surgery about 12 years ago or more). Since he had that surgery he still sometimes has trouble keeping food down, especially if he’s stressed or has over eaten. I’ve been on him for the last 5 years to eat better. He finally said something to me, and although it hurt at the time, it was something I needed to face. I’m a sneaky eater. I eat when no one’s watching, plus I snack after dinner. The snacking after dinner is what he threw in my face. Like I said, it hurt me, and he apologized later for saying it, but I needed to hear it. So with his support, we’ve been eating at home more (we’ve only gone out 3 times in January, it used to be 5 times a week!), I take my lunch to work, I’ve made my own egg muffins (no bread involved), and, most importantly, no snacking after dinner. I’ve lost 16 pounds so far in January (have about another 107 to go). My doctor was very pleased today. Now I’m going to start exercising (walking DVDs like I’ve done before – safe at home). My husband hasn’t weighed himself, but he knows he’s lost because he has had to make another hole in his belt – to make it smaller. 🙂 We are doing this together.
    Someone else said, that the overweight person can only do it when they are ready…and that is true. A supportive spouse, to me though, is crucial. I’m blessed, very blessed.

  16. Maggie says:

    I think there has to be accountability on both sides of the relationship. I agree criticism, verbal abuse, public embarassment should never have a place in a marriage. I also agree it seems like women are more tolerant of an obese husband than the reverse, which is sad.
    At the same time, I’ve seen couples that married thin, and then 1 person gains a large amount of weight. They claim “I’m still the same person I was before” and I always cringe a little. Are you really? Are you really the fun loving, adventurous, athletic, (whatever adjective) you were before gaining all the weight? I gained (and then lost) 50 pounds in the first decade of my marriage and if I’m completely honest, I wasn’t the same person at my heaviest. Less likely to get up and dance at the party, less likely to take get in with my kids at the pool, and definitely the first one off the mountain during a ski trip.
    When one spouse changes in this way, the other spouse is going to have some kind of reaction to it. It’s important for both members to realize that and adjusting to that change takes teamwork and effort if you want a happy marriage. You can’t drastically change yourself and expect your partner not to notice or care at least a little (whether the change is in weight, temper, spending habits, or whatever!). Both spouses have to be accountability to this reality and work together on taking positive action.
    In my opinion, the most effective reaction for the remaining spouse is to live by example, encourage and enable healthy behaviors, and give positive feedback when their spouse makes a healthy choice.
    Great post!

  17. KCLAnderson (Karen) says:

    When I was at my heaviest I jokingly called my husband and I “spaghetti and meatball.” He’s tall and slender and I…was not. He’s 6’4″ and I’m 5’6″ and back then I weighed more than he did. He never criticized or enabled…he loved me (and still does) unconditionally. What I see now is that it was his ability to love me unconditionally that opened the door for me to love me unconditionally…that was pivotal in me finally wanting to take better care of myself.

  18. Caitlin says:

    Having an overweight partner is tough, especially if you’re trying to adopt a healthier lifestyle and your partner is not. I really liked what you said about confronting the problem (with a therapist or expert there, of course) because ignoring it will just cause it to fester, creating a deeper rift in the relationship. Thanks for sharing this post. Very moving.

  19. Lindsay says:

    Great post and an interesting study— although I think you’re right. It confirms what a lot of us already know or have experienced. I related so strongly with your tendency to “get back” at people by eating more. I know from my own experiences that, it may feel good at the moment, but as soon as those french fries were gone, I felt even worse about the comment AND guilty about the junk I just ate. I’m happy that’s no longer my go-to method of coping, but it is definitely a struggle to overcome

  20. Elizabeth says:

    My husband has always been supportive and loved me at every size. I do agree with a previous comment that people will only lose weight when they are ready to do so. It can’t be done for anyone else or it will often end in failure. I do think important people in my life have motivated me: my kids, husband, friends, and other family members have been in my mind to try harder. Ultimately, it has to be about me and my state of mind.

  21. jeanette says:

    Today, in my maintenance, I am so happy that my slim husband never had a negative weight comment ever when I was overweight. He is 10 years older but could run laps around me. Now I can stay up with him as my energy is through the roof. When I was heavy, he always treated me as the most beautiful woman! Never did he turn away sexually even though I pulled away as I thought I was repulsive. Of course now I am so thrilled to give him a more vivacious wife…. one who is proud to be with him because he has loved me the same on all my weight levels!

    • Kim says:

      Your experience is just what I hope to accomplish. My dear husband is 14 years older than me but in far better shape. He has always been athletic, and as a younger man struggled with weight when his activity level dropped and his weight increased. He’s now very trim and pretty fit, while I am a good 50 pounds heavier than I should be. I’ve never been a bikini model or athlete, but my goal is to get back to my best self. He says he loves me just as I am, and I believe him, but I really need to love myself more to be the partner he deserves. Thanks for giving me hope – and unbeknownst to him – the promise of a sexier future! 😉

  22. Katrin says:

    I’m the heavier one in the relationship too. I have been losing but finding it harder and harder to do. My hubby has been great. I know he is happier for my health now that I have been losing.

  23. Amy Marie says:

    Thankfully, I haven’t seen this too much in my Christian circle of friends, but my husband hears horrible things at work. One newly wed coworker flat out told my husband that if his wife gained ANY weight, he would divorce her! 🙁 I think it stems from culture’s disordered view of beauty and of women, personally. I am so blessed by my husband, who loves me NO MATTER what size I am, however is super supportive and encouraging on my journey to a healthy lifestyle & weight!

  24. Debbie says:

    This conversation reminds me of my mom, not my spouse. She lives 3.5 hours from me, is 5’4″ and she’s a blonde bomb shell 36 24 36 exercises daily and is 73 years old. Every time she calls me she asks me how my diet is going. I’ve been overweight my entire life and am so sick of her asking me that quesitons. Yes I’ve been dieting since the 7th grade and I’m 50 however enough already! It does make me eat! Is that all she cares about. So frustrating!!!!!! Your blog definitely makes me realize I’m not the only one struggling to lose weight. Where I went wrong, only committing to 3 months at a time and not a lifestyle of change. That’s why I keep gaining the 50 lbs back! This time will be different. Thank you.

  25. L says:

    I am one of those women who is much bigger in size than my husband, but luckily he has always been nothing but supportive and loving. I’m not so sure I would have been as supportive, had the tables been turned the other way round. I hope, but will never know…

  26. Taryl says:

    Oh that was me. Outweighing my foot-taller husband by 40-ish pounds at my high weight. He was such a blessing, never made a comment on my weight negatively or otherwise, and wouldn’t be trapped into the does-this-make-me-look-fat commentary I’d be making on myself. I’m fortunate, I know guys like him are rare gems and I love him dearly for that and many other things! He definitely comments on how great I look these days, knowing how much hard work I put in to maintain, but still never has me feeling like he didn’t think I looked good even back then 🙂

  27. Kati says:

    What an important post–thank you. I definately gave my husband and hug and let him know how much I appreaciate him and all of his support…

  28. Lily says:

    Wow, that husband is kind of an A$$hole. Whatever happened to “in sickness and in health/in poverty/hardships” when it comes to marriage? A woman goes through so much when she becomes a wife/mother – ie. giving birth to a baby is extremely hard on the body. The body goes through so much changes that it takes more than discipline to get back to “pre-baby” weight. Appreciate your wife/spouse for the person she/he is. Motivation for weight loss has to come from within. The best “help” someone else can give is love and support, not “helpful” hints or weight loss advice (like we don’t already know all there is to know already ha).
    Anyways, a very nice post. It’s a controversial topic – thanks for brining it out in the open. 🙂

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