The mind, once expanded to the dimensions of larger ideas, never returns to its original size. ~ Oliver Wendell Holmes

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Marriage & Obesity - A Growing Problem

You pop the question; "Will you marry me and be my wife?" She answers - "yes".  A date is set and preparations are underway. She's a beautiful woman, so sweet, so kind. You have so much fun together, sharing a passion for the outdoors and sports.  Both of you are fit and trim and take your health seriously, after all, you want this relationship to last you for a lifetime.

In preparing for this special day, you both take to working out extra hard. After all, you want to look your best in front of all your guests and in the photos and videos you will treasure. With sweat and determination, she trims down to her lowest weight in ages because this is her day and she will be center stage. Dressed in flowing white lace and satin, a girl wants to shine. The two of you have never looked better. You can't your hands off each other, and the sex? It keeps getting better all the time.

The big day arrives. You exchange rings and vows to love one and other "for better or worse", "in sickness and in health", "till death do you part".  After a romantic honeymoon you settle down and go about setting up a home. As far as you are concerned, like a good wine, your relationship will only grow better over time.

What you didn't expect was her new healthy lifestyle would take a back burner.  Just like in college, she puts on the Freshman 15. But that's alright. She was almost too skinny for your taste. In time, she becomes pregnant and you couldn't be happier. You watch your shrinking violet bloom, and bloom and bloom some more. She argues that she is eating for two, but an army is more like it. The doctor is even concerned.  He told the two of you that gaining 25-35 lbs was healthy. But she's already there and it's only been four months!

By the time she reaches full term the woman who started at 120 pounds is now closing in on 200. But she tells you not to worry, most of it is baby fat and will come off as soon as she starts working out again.  Only, that never happens. Now, granted she drops 40 pounds within months after the baby is born, but the rest is too difficult to contend with between feedings and diapers. Again she tells you not to worry. Once things become easier on her, she will get back into shape. Another ten pounds slowly melt off, but that's where it stops.

A few years pass and once again the stork has you on his delivery list.  She gains yet another 60 pounds. She cries that she can't help it, that the cravings have gotten the best of her. Your bride is now up near 200 again it's starting to take a toll on her health. After the baby arrives she manages to lose about 35 pounds, but the rest sticks like glue. Eating poorly because she's too pooped to cook, she turns to junk food for ease, polishing off what your first child doesn't complete. 

Next thing you know her cholesterol and sugar levels have shot up. She's tired all the time between the kids and lack of exercise. You are waiting for her to tell you that this trend will change once the little one is out of diapers, but this time she is growing accustomed to her new curves and is militant about defending her weight. She is no longer as happy and sweet as she used to be, now proudly displaying the chip on her shoulder like a 5 carat diamond.

No longer do you do the things you used to. Long strenuous hikes are replaced by slow strolls on the beach. She is too busy, too tired and perhaps a little too self-conscious to have sex.   So you back off, not wanting to make her uncomfortable. You go out of your way to prove that you love her skinny or chubby.

You admit, you also let yourself go during the first few years, now donning a small paunch where a once firm six pack used to reside. You might not be up to par with the prenuptial days, but there again, who is? You go to your ten year reunion and everyone has put on weight since you last saw each other, with maybe the exception of those still unattached. What is it about remaining single? You thought married people were happier and healthier, but you begin to wonder. And it's not just those with children who have expanded horizontally. Thinking back, you both put on some weight after that first year together.

Now I'm not trying to wage warfare on women here. (And the story above is a true personal account) This pattern is more common than you think and backed up by studies.

"With women, we saw incremental risk after one year," says Penny Gordon-Larsen, one of the two nutrition epidemiologists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) who conducted the study of nearly 7000 individuals in relationships. "The longer she live(s) with a romantic partner, the more likely she (i)s to keep putting on weight."^

Couples tend to try to spend quality time together at the dinner table, especially if both work. Then, once the kids are tucked in bed many spend the rest of the evening in front of the TV, snacks in hand. With a family, there's not as much freedom to run off to the gym.  This often leads to expanding waistlines. However, all is not lost.  If they work to support each other the cycle can be broken, but if one partner refuses to change their habits and they are no longer on the same page, tensions may mount.

There are several measures you can take to help things along.


If you have become lax about eating habits and lifestyle and this has led to obesity, what's the driving cause?  Do you think you can ignore this important responsibility without serious consequences to your health and wellbeing, lifespan, physical capacity and endurance, self-image, and relationships?  Can you really maintain your resolve to regain control someday despite the poor choices, bad habits and procrastination that brought you to this point?  Are you all that confident hat it will be just as easy to get in shape when you are older?  Do you actually believe that maintaining one's weight is purely a matter of aesthetics?  Which comes to you more naturally - excuses or effort?  And do you honestly feel that the only one you are hurting is yourself?

If you are worried about a partner's weight, why is this issue so important to you?  Do you really want what's best for your partner's wellbeing or are you more concerned with how they look?  While it is understandable that one may find an obese partner less sexually desirable, is that the only reason you were attracted in the first place?  If so - you need to reevaluate your priorities.  On the other hand, if health is you main concern - what can you do to help?


If you haven't broached this issue before, or have tried to do so with less than favorable results, explain that you have concerns regarding his or her health and that, when the time is right, you would like to talk about it.  Timing, mood, and environment is everything when it comes to sensitive matters like this.  Make it clear that your intent is to listen and be empathetic as much as you want your feelings to be acknowledged.

Express your thoughts in a supportive, loving fashion keeping it on a positive note.  Emphasize issues such as health and longevity, letting them know that they are an essential part of your and your children's lives.  Make it clear that your love is unconditional.  If your partner recoils, remain calm and understanding.  This problem is often deeply rooted.  Above all - DO NOT NAG.  That's the quickest way to give rise to defensiveness and end this discussion fast.

If you are the one with the weight problem and your partner expresses concern - listen him or her out. It's far to easy to jump conclusions and view this as an attack or sign that your relationship is at risk.  Put yourself in the other's shoes.  There have probably been times you have wanted them to "change" something or give up a bad habit for their own sake.  This is no different.


Often, obesity is a symptom of a underlying problem, physical or psychological.  See your MD to make sure it's not a thyroid disorder, hormone imbalance or a case of impaired metabolism.  Consider adverse side effects of any medication that has been prescribed.  Enlist the help of a nutrition specialist and make sure everyone in the household adopts a healthier lifestyle, even the kids.  It's never too early to make better choices in how and what we eat.  This needs to be a joint effort - all hands on deck.  There are plenty of delicious substitutes for decadent and fattening delights and snacks.  They not only save calories and dollars, they save lives.

Encourage your partner to become more active by taking the lead. Start small - such as taking the stairs, or parking farther away from the door when you go out together.  Take walks and slowly increase the increments. This is a great time to de-stress and talk without interruption.  Although many men loath the idea, take a dancing class as a couple.  It's a fun way to get exercise. Try a spicy rumba, tango or salsa and don't forget to make time for romantic slow dances.  This promotes intimacy and self esteem. Exercise boosts endorphins - the happy hormones.  This fights off depression, a condition often associated with obesity.  

If you still find yourself meeting up with resistance seek counseling, preferably from someone specializing in eating disorders and couples therapy. After all, this sort of problem affects everyone involved.  Sometimes it takes an outside perspective to shed light on all the hows and whys that led up to this condition.  You will learn techniques to strengthen your relationship as well as yourself, and hopefully guide you both down the road to improving health habits.


Obesity will diminish the quality of your life and health.  You are significantly cutting your life expectancy for every point over 25 on the BMI scale.  Your mate may have vowed "in sickness and in health" and is faithfully sticking by your side, but what message do you send when you let bad habits come before ensuring your promise to be there for the long haul?  And what about your kids? What values are you teaching them if you can't or won't take care of yourself?  They want to know that their parent(s) is going to be alright and there for them as they grow.   Also, remember, as a parent you are a role model.  If you live an unhealthy lifestyle, chances are your family will too. This is not fair to them.  Childhood obesity is on the rise.  Don't resort to, "Do as I say, but not as I do." Actions speak louder than words alone.

There is often a lot of frustration, guilt and confusion on the part of those married to someone who has become obese.  They may feel disappointed that the things that once brought you together have changed.   The relationship may not be as fulfilling when you are not be able to pursue activities you once enjoyed together.   Health concerns may cast a gloomy cloud over your future.  Fear of losing a partner prematurely, financial concerns over health care, and withdrawal from intimacy may wreak havoc on a relationship further complicating matters.  Let's face it -  If you give up on yourself, you give up on both of you.  Your body is your temple, and life is a miraculous gift.  Don't destroy it.

Some people claim they are happy being obese,  although that is usually an excuse to avoid fighting a battle seems overwhelming and can prove frustrating along the way.   Some refuse to change until they are given "sufficient reason" such as a heart attack, stroke, cancer or diabetes.  If declining health, shortening your life, worrying your children and spouse isn't enough, what is?  A point has to come when the utter disregard for yourself and others is brought into question.  It's time for the excuses to stop.  No one is demanding perfection.  This is not a competition to be The Biggest Loser, although we all could learn something from the sheer determination of the show's contestants.

Couples must carefully deal with these issues.  Being supportive of a partner attempting to lose weight requires patience, selflessness, and the willingness to adopt the same lifestyle changes required of them.  It can be a rewarding and educational experience for the whole family.  Just make sure your motives are sincere, that your expectations are realistic, and that you have the same goal in mind - getting and staying healthy.  Your spouse may not ever look the same as he or she did when you first met, but the beauty that is emitted from within when they find a new found sense of self-esteem, self-control and pride in their accomplishment cannot be beat.

If, however, your heart is no longer in it, if exterior looks outweigh better health, if you are sticking it out of fear of how others may view you or are afraid you may not be any better off on your own, if you've become a martyr for your partner's problems and are perhaps inadvertently supporting their habit by becoming a co-dependent and enabler you are not helping yourself, your spouse or your family.   If you have tried everything and it can't be fixed - it may be time to make some hard decisions.  Obesity takes a toll on everyone whose life is touched by it, especially those we love.

(Please note: this issue can apply to men as well as women, it is just more common among women.)

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  1. Sadly, this is my life. At 5'3" and 250 lbs, my wife looks nothing like the 125 lbs girl I meet many years ago. I still love her very much and we have a great friendship, but I am no longer physically attracted to her. Obviously this puts a damper on our sex life. It still happens 3 to 4 times a month, but it would be daily if it was up to her (which is a source of some frustration on her part and occasional fights - "why don't I want to have sex with her?", "uhh, I just don't feel like it").

    I'm in better shape now than when we met. Don't get me wrong, I was up around 40 lbs overweight after a few years of marriage as well, but at 6 feet tall that's a different story. I got down to my current weight and the best shape of my life 4 years ago (diet & exercise - mostly swimming).

    We have 3 beautiful daughters and I can't imagine spending a day away from them plus I am happy with every other part of my life, so I don't consider divorce an option.

    My wife tells me that she is incredibly happy, aside from not having enough sex but she wouldn't mind getting back down to her pre-baby weight. She has tried many things over the years, but nothing has worked. It is not hormones or thyroid issues, purely diet and lack of exercise. As a human, it's easy to gain weight and damn hard to loose it (especially for women it seems).

    I think about sex every time I see an attractive woman, then I get depressed knowing that it would never happen (I take my vows seriously, I will never cheat on my wife). I would love to have sex with a fit, energetic, attractive women, like the woman I married, not the woman she has become.

    If nothing changes, I suspect that once the girls are all off to college, this will cause an incredible strain on our marriage. :(

  2. This whole post could have been written by my husband about me. Only I didn't become obese until in by 40's after all my kids were born. It coincided with the fatal illnesses and deaths of both my parents within 4 years. I was working full time as a surgical nurse, taking emergency call, handling four busy children, and not getting a lot of help from my hard-working dairy farmer husband. He worked until 10pm a lot of nights and the kids and house were my territory. I was exhausted, grief-stricken at the loss of my parents, and stopped worrying about keeping my weight down. Casseroles and fast-foods were often what we did due to our busy schedules. I did occasionally go on diets and try to get some weight off, but it was a losing battle. I weighed 118 lb 37 years ago when we got married. I now weigh 250 lb. My husband has been struggling with ED for several years now and uses one of the ED meds to accomplish an erection. However, a month could go by and he doesn't approach me for sex. I can try to initiate it and I get little response. We had a discussion about it last night and he admitted that my weight is part of the issue. He is slender and very attractive at age 61 and many people don't even think he's 50 yet. I too, look much younger than my age. I dress well, and make a good appearance, however, I know he is turned off by my size. I am so tired of struggling with my weight. I am walking with my daughter-in-law, have tried weight watchers, other diets, and it's like trying to blast the weight off with dynamite! It is extremely hard to lose any weight for me. I have had lab work and nothing is wrong with my thyroid, etc. I could cry to think what I have done to our sex life by being so fat. We used to have a very active sex life and I couldn't imagine we would ever have this problem. I also fear having bariatric surgery and wish the diets would work for me. Does anyone have any insight here? I need help!

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