Weight Loss Not Always Good for Romantic Relationships

Losing weight generally benefits health, but when one partner in a romantic relationship loses weight, it doesn’t always have a positive effect on the relationship. According to new research from North Carolina State University and the University of Texas at Austin, weight loss can be problematic if both partners aren’t on board with enacting healthful changes.

“People need to be aware that weight loss can change a relationship for better or worse, and that communication plays an important role in maintaining a healthy relationship,” says Lynsey Romo, PhD, an assistant professor of communication at North Carolina State University and lead author of a paper on the research.

For the study, researchers surveyed 21 couples (42 adults) from across the country. One partner in each couple had lost 30 lbs or more in fewer than two years, with an average weight loss of about 60 lbs. Reasons for the weight loss ranged from changes in diet and exercise to medical procedures. The questionnaires asked each member of the couple about the impact of the weight loss on the relationship.

The researchers found that after weight loss, the couples’ communication generally improved. The partner who lost weight was more likely to talk about healthful behaviors and inspire his or her partner to maintain or enact a healthful lifestyle. Couples in which both partners were receptive to these changes reported more positive interactions and increased physical and emotional intimacy.

However, in some cases, weight loss resulted in negative communication. Some partners who lost weight nagged their significant other to follow their lead, which caused tension in the relationship. Other partners who hadn’t lost weight reported feeling threatened by and insecure because of their partner’s weight loss. These participants resisted change in their relationships. They would make critical comments toward their significant other, be less interested in sex, or try to sabotage their partner with unhealthful food in order to derail their partner’s efforts and prevent the partner and the relationship from changing.

“This study found that one partner’s lifestyle change influenced the dynamic of couples’ interaction in a variety of positive or negative ways, tipping the scale of romantic relationships in a potentially upward or downward direction,” Romo says. “When both partners bought into the idea of healthful changes and were supportive of one another, weight loss appeared to bring people closer. When significant others resisted changes and weren’t supportive of their partner’s weight loss, the relationship suffered.

“This study shouldn’t dissuade anyone from losing excess weight, but it should encourage people to be aware of the potential pros and cons of weight loss on their relationship,” Romo adds. “It’s really important for the partner of someone trying to lose weight to be supportive of their significant other without feeling threatened by their health changes. This approach will help people lose weight without jeopardizing the quality of their relationship.”

Source: North Carolina State University