Weight and Relationships

Many factors can lead to conflict and dissatisfaction in romantic relationships, from finances to child rearing. But according to new research from George Mason University and the University of Washington, weight plays a role in couples' happiness.

Sociologists from the two universities published their findings in the book The Normal Bar, which is based on information gathered in a comprehensive survey of romantic partners. The data about weight is particularly striking, with 60 percent of people saying they are unhappy in their relationships overall and that their partners are also overweight.

Even though correlation doesn’t necessarily mean causation, the data points to some sobering realities about weight, body image, and the standards people project onto themselves and others.

Forty percent of men and women respondents reported disliking their partner’s current weight, while almost 70 percent said they wanted to lose weight themselves. It’s not just a partner’s weight that has an effect on our happiness—it could also have something to do with how we feel when we look in the mirror.

Dr. Rob Dobrenski, a clinical psychologist and author of Crazy: Notes On and Off the Couch, breaks the study down and offers his own insight into this weighty matter.

Dobrenski notes that some of this weight fixation could come from genuine health concerns, but it could also spring from a more disturbing place.

“One respondent could be talking about his or her partner losing a few pounds for purely cosmetic reasons while another has an obese spouse with diabetes and high blood pressure who is a ticking time bomb,” Dobrenski said. “The former taps into the uglier side of human psychology—our obsession with unrealistic body images—while the latter is much more based on an overall concern for our partner and relationship.” 

So is it worth it to confront your partner? In Dobrenski’s opinion, “it’s all about why.” You need a strong reason to bring up a topic as sensitive as weight. And before you talk to your partner, you should probably ask yourself a few questions.

“For those who are concerned about a partner's weight, check your motive,” Dobrenski said. “Why are you unhappy? Also, are you giving as much as you're asking? It's quite easy to make demands while falsely believing you are providing the same perks.”

If your motivation isn't superficial, you should start a larger conversation about healthy living, not just grumble over a few extra pounds.

“Is it just looks? If so, good luck with that because most people who feel a need to be thin or buff will ultimately be resentful for such standards,” Dobrenski said. “When it comes to health, however, I'm a strong advocate for confrontation. When you sign up to be with someone, there is a tacit agreement that you will take reasonable steps to achieve a healthy mind and body.”

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