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Why Your Spouse May Actually Sabotage Your Weight Loss Journey

March 4, 2016

Most people who begin going through a process of drastic weight loss anticipate that there will be obstacles they must overcome along the way.  However, one obstacle that they might not anticipate is resistance from those closest to them—even their spouse.  The sad and unfortunate fact is that 75% of people who go through a drastic weight loss transformation end up divorced at the end of the process (J. Moore-Harris, 2011).  In order avoid that fate, you first must understand why your spouse might not be your most enthusiastic supporter during your weight loss journey. 

Why your spouse may feel threatened

As you go through the drastic weight loss process, your routines and the way you relate to the world around you will change.  You’ll probably be spending more time at the gym or working out at home, and your eating habits will change also.  All these changes will affect your relationships with those close to you—especially your significant other.

Think about it—how many of the rituals of bonding that you have with your spouse are based around food?  Whether it’s going out to eat, cooking meals together, or sharing the occasional ice cream sundae, chances are that many of the ways you connect with your spouse do involve food.  These routines will almost certainly be disrupted if you are on a strict diet. 

Also, it’s almost inevitable that the amount of quality time that you have to spend with your spouse will be affected by changes in your workout routine.  Unless your spouse is going to the gym with you or participating in your workouts, they may feel abandoned or jealous of the fact that you are—in their mind—picking the gym over them. 

Lastly, as you start to lose weight, your spouse may feel threatened by the fact that you may appear more attractive to members of the opposite sex.  Some of the couples that appeared on the NBC show The Biggest Loser that I worked with during my research mentioned that prior to starting their weight loss journey, they never worried about their spouse getting hit on when he or she went on business trips or went out with their friends of the same sex.  After they started to lose weight, however, that actually became a possibility, and it made them feel a bit insecure. 

How the sabotage occurs

No one likes change. We all gravitate towards the familiar because it’s safe, even if it’s not always what is best. As we learned in the eight stages of drastic weight loss, while you may be ready to lose weight and transform your life it doesn’t necessarily mean that your loved one’s are quite as ready for their own lives to be impacted by the ripple effects of your change process. Just like in alcoholic families, where we see someone get sober and all of a sudden the entire family goes into a state of chaos because their roles are changing, a similar process happens in families where a loved one loses a drastic amount of weight. When your spouse feels threatened by change it is more than likely that they won’t feel comfortable, or even know how to express those feelings. So often their fear comes out indirectly as subtle resistance.

When a spouse feels threatened by the changes taking place as you lose weight, they may—often subconsciously—attempt to undermine your efforts in attempts to “get things back to normal.”  I hesitate to use the word “sabotage” to describe these efforts, because that implies that there is a master plan that your spouse is following and that they are even conscious of their attempts, and most of the time that is not the case.  More often, the “sabotage” is very subtle and involves passive-aggressive behavior rather than overt actions. Remember, this is often out of fear. I am not making excuses for this behavior but just trying to provide context. 

Some common examples of ways your spouse might attempt to undermine your progress include making discouraging or negative remarks about what you are eating or wearing, bringing your “trigger foods” back from the grocery store, or scheduling dinner dates at restaurants where they serve foods you can’t eat without breaking your diet.  They also might complain about the amount of time you spend at the gym or simply being less flexible and open in the relationship.

The danger here is that, in an effort to not “rock the boat” or negatively affect your relationship with your spouse, you simply appease them and allow them to undermine your efforts.  As we have discussed in previous blog posts, part of successfully undergoing a weight loss transformation is re-writing your story, and that includes changing past habits of accommodating people out of a belief that “you’re not worth it.”

It is vital to your success to address your partner’s resistance. To stand up for yourself and believe that you are worth it. Just remember, your partner’s resistance is often less about you and more about their own resistance to your relationship changing in many different ways. This is often hard to grasp, but having compassion for your partner’s fear of change does not mean you have to accommodate them by going back to your old ways. Compassion actually frees you up to take a greater stand for yourself while also opening the door for relationship growth as you navigate through the difficult conversations about your feelings. (Learn to how the difficult conversations in Dr. Mondo’s Roap Map to Weight Loss Program: MORE INFO)

How to avoid the problem

So, how can you prevent your spouse from sabotaging your efforts to lose weight without negatively affecting the relationship?  The first thing that you have to do is recognize that drastic weight loss is a major life event, just like having a child, getting married, or starting a new job.  Like other major life events, it is going to involve significant changes, and preparing for those changes before they start to happen will go a long way towards making the process easier. 

One way you can prepare for those changes is to simply share the information I’ve provided in this blog post with your spouse or partner.  Let them know that you read online that a drastic weight loss transformation is a challenging adjustment for many couples, and give them space to voice any fears they may have. 

You may also consider going to couples’ therapy so that you can have these discussions with someone who has experience helping people deal with these issues.  You don’t have to wait until your relationship is on the rocks to go to therapy—and in fact, the likelihood of a positive outcome is much better if you don’t’ wait until that point. 

Whatever you do, don’t simply think that your relationship will not be affected by your drastic weight loss process.  If you take no action at all, your chances of not having a positive outcome—either for your weight loss process or the health of your relationship—dramatically increase. Finally, remember that this is an adjustment season, not a sentence. I’ve seen a lot of couples manage to not only survive this adjustment season after drastic weight loss, but actually create deeper bonds, more meaningful connections, and have healthier relationships. If you meet this change head on this can be a tremendous opportunity for growth.