A friend was telling me of her new diet and plans to lose 20 lbs. “I told Jack (her husband of 10 years), ‘I'm so sorry I got fat since we married!'” From everything I can tell, their relationship is thriving, but my friend has a deep-rooted sense that she has an obligation to make efforts in her appearance and weight.
This is no 50s housewife. This is a progressive, fabulous professional woman who enjoyed an adventurous love life for years before marrying a wonderful (also progressive and fabulous) man. I admit I was a bit taken aback by her commitment to maintaining her figure for her husband. The partyline progressive and feminist (is that redundant?) stance is that it doesn't matter what you look like! He should love you/be committed no matter what! Conforming appearances for your partner's sexual desire is degrading! It's what's inside that matters.
Like many progressive and feminist issues, this one does not take into account the very human nature of dudes and chicks. There is no arguing with the fact that men are more visually inclined. Sure, there have been a couple of recent studies that challenge this stereotype, but suffice it to say that an MSNBC poll a few years ago revealed that half of men would dump his female partner if she got fat (just 20 percent of women said the same of their husbands and boyfriends). According to my own scientific research (dating a bunch of divorced guys), I can tell you that if his wife got fat, it bugged him. Even the really progressive and feminist guys. And, I might add, especially the professionally successful ones.
Fat wife skinny husband
Admit it, you are like me. When I see a handsome man accompanied by a heavy wife (no matter how pretty or wonderful or professionally accomplished), I wonder: Is he faithful? Do they still have sex? Does her weight bug him? Why did she let herself go? The more successful he is, the more questions arise. Yes, the same questions are evoked when a gorgeous, brilliant woman is partnered with an overweight and unattractive man. But that is just different, and you know it. It is that old, old supposedly anthropologically based social norm that a man's value in the mating marketplace is dictated by his professional and financial success, and a woman's value by her physical beauty and ability to charm at the company holiday party. But we can make our own money now. That is both awesome and the source of much grief in our personal lives, including that balancing work and family leaves less time to exercise, which makes us fat and more vulnerable to being dumped for it.
I get this, and I respect it.
I've also lived it.
I've written here about one post-divorce affair in which my boyfriend went out of his way to let me know I was not attractive enough for him – including being too fat. This was particularly devastating because he was not better looking or more successful than l was. WTF? I'd think time and again as I nursed my self esteem.
I did date a very handsome and successful man when I was in my early 20s (about 20 lbs ago) and as the relationship went on and his career exploded, my physical appearance came into question in subtle but painful ways. Eventually he left me for his very pretty and petite co-anchor on the national evening news, where he was a rising star in his Eastern European country. I google him every now and again and he is just as good-looking as I remember and is incredibly successful—and according to the gossip sites in that country, he has consistently upgraded to increasingly, devastatingly beautiful (and thin) women as his career skyrockets.
On the one hand, what can you do? On the other: Ouch!
He says: “My wife got fat.”
A few months ago I heard from a reader who felt guilty because he wasn't attracted to his after she gained weight.
“I used to think guys were assholes who cheated on their wives and blamed their weight as the reasons. Well, my was really fit and hot for the first 5 years of our relationship.
“But she wife pigged out like crazy when she was pregnant with our twins, and would tell everyone that she was ‘treating' herself. Well, now the kids are 5 years old, and she doesn't work, the kids are in kindergarden all day, she has tons of free time, and has made no effort to get back into shape. I go the gym or jog 4-5 days per week, and have offered to help her find a routine (with me taking care of the kids, etc.) so she can go to the gym, but she ignores me. I've taken over cooking so we all eat healthier, but she eats chips and ice cream all evening.
“I am in good shape, and I see that women check me out. She is overweight by at least 30 lbs and does not otherwise care for her appearance. When we do have sex, it is hard for me to really be into it. I'll be honest: I feel like is unfair that she gets to have sex with someone who goes to the gym, and I don't.
“There is a woman at work who is my age, also has kids, and takes care of herself. She is not even my type, but I find myself so attracted to her, her body, and fantasizing about her all the time. I feel guilty, that this superficial thing makes me feel like such a bad dad and husband.
“But at the end of the day, I feel like I give my wife the gift of my own health and attractiveness, and she does not return the favor.”
Why do wives get fat?
The reasons wives get fat are the same reasons everyone else gets fat:
- Not prioritizing health
- Too little time to exercise and/or cook healthy foods
- Childbirth and nursing tend to be connected with weight gain
- Emotional issues involving food, self-image and connection to our physical selves, which can stem from deep and old wounds
- She is pushing him away. Whether consciously or consciously, she may really be unhappy in the marriage, and knows that her weight is an easy way for him to blame her for the end of the relationships—and for her to label him a superficial jerk for not loving her no matter what.
- People are complicated and complex.
- Marriages are complicated and complex.
This Cornell University study found some interesting takeaways about marriage and weight gain:
- Married people are heavier than single people
- Obese women are happier than other women in their marriages. Researchers suspect this is because they appreciate that their value on the singles market is low, and therefore are contented with their marriages than thinner women.
- Obese men were less happy with their wives than other men, because, the paper proposes, their wives nag them about their weight, which causes marital conflict, and because men do not internalize societal fat-shaming as much as women.
“My husband left me because I gained weight”
Does your divorce story start and end with, “My husband left me because I got fat”?
Maybe a boyfriend broke up with you because you gained weight.
Maybe he had an affair with a thinner woman, or started dating a smaller girlfriend shortly after you divorced. Maybe he told you: “I'm not attracted to you anymore because you are overweight, and I want a divorce.”
I imagine that hurts like hell. After all my own, related shame around my body in romantic relationships hurt really badly, even though it was not a full marriage at stake.
But I am not going to let you off that easily. Two big points:
1. It takes two people to make a marriage work, and it takes two people to end it. If your weight were the single deal-breaker in keeping the marriage together (which it never is, keep reading), then why wouldn't you just loose the weight?
2. It is never just about the weight. Fat people stay happily married all the time. So do couples in which one is fit and the other is not. Weight is like money in a marriage: It does not help or hurt a marriage in and of itself. What the thing does is highlight other, deeper, more human parts of the people involved, and the inner workings of the relationship itself.
As psychiatrist Gail Saltz told the Today Show:
“Your turned-off feelings likely have to do with a lot more than weight. I suspect there are other issues that are harder to pinpoint: You are angry at your wife, you feel awkward being honest with her, you have let your lives become dominated by workday things, you have trouble communicating.
“I’m not saying that having an overweight spouse has no impact on your sex life. Sure, your wife might be less attractive to you in the physical sense. And being overweight sends a negative message — that your wife doesn’t care enough about herself, the marriage or whether you have sex. Now, you fear saying anything and she feels you are pulling away, so you are wary around each other, setting off a vicious circle of avoidance and annoyance.”
What to do if your spouse or significant other gains weight and you want to leave him/her
First of all, just be honest with your partner. Maybe you sit down and tell them:
“I really love you, and I want desperately to make this relationship to work. For me, that includes each of us taking care of our health and physical appearance. That includes weight.”
If things have gotten this far without this level of honesty (which is likely a sign of your kindness!), then bring in a professional.
Relationship/marriage counseling when a husband or wife gets fat
A skilled couples therapist—whether you are married or not—can be instrumental in helping your communicate your needs and stresses in the relationship. A good relationship counselor will also help you and your husband or wife uncover the deeper reasons that you are not connecting any more—and help you realign once again.
Couples counseling can be very challenging for reasons that include practical ones:
- It is hard to schedule a time that works for both of you—including location and driving to and from the session
- Cost, since insurance rarely pays for therapy any more
- Finding a couples counselor that you both like, which is especially hard in smaller communities that have fewer mental health professionals
Online therapy is a great option. Sites like BetterHelp, which has an A Better Business Bureau rating, allow you to choose from thousands of certified and licensed therapists around the country. With prices starting at $40 per week for unlimited text, voice, email or video sessions, BetterHelp is extremely convenient and efficient.
Or, research reviews of the top online therapy sites to find the help you need, now.
If your marriage or relationship is really headed for divorce, be smart and start planning. Here is what every mom should ask for in divorce negotiations.
Here is my female counter-anecdote: My husband was mostly fit, though he put on a few pounds after we married, which bothered him, and made him worry it bothered me. It didn't (though his self-consciousness did). I have always taken care of myself, though I could stand to lose a good 10-15 lbs. People often remark that I always look nice and wear makeup every day, even though I almost always work from home. During one marriage counseling session, in a plea for more appreciation, I mentioned that I freshened up my makeup before my husband came home. “Wow, that is really something—women hardly ever do that,” the therapist said (cue gloating).
On the other hand, my current boyfriend has a really killer body. Seriously, I cannot get enough of his broad shoulders and muscular ass. We recently went to the theater and I spent the whole two hours clawing at his huge arms. His back is so rock-solid I sometimes wonder if I'm not sleeping with David, looted from Florence. His physique is not the main attraction, but it is an important one. As our relationship develops—and our bodies deteriorate as bodies are prone to do—I would hope that our intellectual and emotional rapport would deepen, and replace to a degree my focus on being ravished by his man-body. But, of course, if in years to come, the socks-on-the-floor and other minor and major grievances mushroom into serious relationship friction, I can imagine piling onto the list a flabby tummy or swinging triceps. In other words: If the relationship is solid, bodies matter less. But when things go south—drooping boobs and a sagging ass seem that much more egregious—especially if we're talking about something within the person's control, like weight gain.
But this all comes down to expectations from the very beginning. I can imagine my boyfriend's inevitable physical decline bugging me more than my ex-husband's because his is better to start with. His bod plays a larger role in our story, and—should things head that way—the expectations for the long-term. Marriage, after all, is an agreement and a business deal based on current expectations. You expect going forward what you sign up for today. It's not reasonable for a man to be be surprised his wife doesn't acquire a string-bikini-worthy body 20 years into their relationship if she was plump when they met.
This post was originally published Nov. 9, 2014.
Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour, Oprah.com, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post's ‘Must Read” list.
Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.
A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Read more about Emma here.