Partner Support Affects Weight Gain in Married Couples

According to a recent study led by Andrea L. Meltzer of the Department of Psychology at Southern Methodist University, newlyweds who are unsupportive of each other’s weight loss goals can actually contribute to their partners’ weight gain. Obesity is quickly becoming a national dilemma and is known to lead to significant health problems, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes. In recent years, experts have suggested that even small amounts of excess weight can be problematic. In addition to the physical health problems, individuals who are overweight tend to have a poor self-image and low self-esteem.

Marriage has been demonstrated to have positive emotional effects. But according to this most recent study, when marriages are unsupportive, they can actually lead to weight gain. Meltzer chose to follow 169 newlywed couples over 4 years to determine how their behaviors, motivations, and attitudes towards each other and their own individual weight loss goals would affect their weight. She hypothesized that the couples with the most marital support and the least amount of opposition would gain the least amount of weight.

Meltzer discovered that both wives and husbands gained weight when they actively behaved in negative ways. Specifically, choosing to avoid engaging in healthy behaviors, complaining, or being unmotivated to seek support resulted in weight gain. However, men gained fewer pounds when their wives responded with rejection and opposition while providing support. This finding was persistent even when Meltzer accounted for other conditions such as marital happiness, income, and symptoms of depression. Overall, the results highlight the importance of a respectful and reciprocating relationship of support between spouses when it comes to achieving weight loss goals. Meltzer added, “These findings demonstrate the importance of spouses’ supportive behaviors for goal achievement, illuminate the dyadic nature of weight gain, and demonstrate the benefits of negativity in some contexts.”

Reference:
Meltzer, A. L., McNulty, J. K., Karney, B. R. (2012). Social support and weight maintenance in marriage: the interactive effects of support seeking, support provision, and gender. Journal of Family Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0029364

Related articles:
Harness the Power of the Marriage Bond
Embrace Conflict as a Path to Deeper Connection
One Big Relationship Mistake (and How to Fix it)

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  • Cheyene

    Cheyene

    August 20th, 2012 at 4:08 PM

    I know that this will sound horrible, bit one time my husband and I did Weight Watchers together and I know that there were times when I would encourage him to break with the plan because I did not want him to lose more weight than I did. Just saying that makes me feel awful and I have never admitted that to him! So I will just tell you all here and maybe you won’t judge me too harshly. I am so selfish and did not think of him at all, just myself and reaching my own goals. I would never do that now, I think that I learned a lot from that experience but I am still not brave enough to tell him about my sabotage efforts. It’s not like I ever made him eat anything but I realize that there were times when I have been less than supportive of his efforts to lose weight too. I guess that just shows all of my own insecurities.

  • Matt g

    Matt g

    August 21st, 2012 at 4:53 AM

    My wife would kill me if she knew that I had ever done anything as deceptive as what Cheyene admittedly did to he husband while he was trying to lose weight.

    What happened to being a supportive partner or spouse and being happy for their weight loss efforts? What’s up with all of that sabotage that we tend to see so much of?

  • jimmy

    jimmy

    August 21st, 2012 at 7:59 AM

    Haven’t you ever seen those photos of couples who were so slim and trim on the wedding day, and then two years later they have both blown up like balloons?
    They get complacent and don’t take care of themselves anymore, but then if one tries to break that habit and get fit again the other is right there trying to break that will.
    They feel threatened that their spouse will look better than they do, or that they will leave, or even that they may be forced to join them!
    Unless both are dedicated to do the work together this kind of plan can often spell trouble with a capital T!

  • Jada

    Jada

    August 21st, 2012 at 9:53 AM

    As a woman I have noticed that it seems a little more important for women to have the total support of their family when it comes to exercise and losing weight than men need. Are women a little needier? I think so, and know that I definitely am! I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing, just that we sometimes need a little more hand holding and moral support than men do when trying to lose weight. Seems to be more of an emotional thing for women but don’t really understand why or where those kinds of issues come from. Oh well, another discussion for another day.

  • kevin

    kevin

    August 21st, 2012 at 2:45 PM

    Why should this even be some kind of competition?
    If you love your spouse you should want him or her to be healthy and lose excess weight

  • mathew

    mathew

    August 21st, 2012 at 11:58 PM

    the way I see it:

    disagreements/lack of support -> worrying/stress -> unfavorable diet patterns -> weight gain

    happiness in a relationship is rewarding in all aspects,lets try and bring that back in our marriage,each one of us!

  • Brandi A

    Brandi A

    August 22nd, 2012 at 4:17 AM

    Losing weight should not depend on the actions of other people around you. It should all be dependent on you.

  • matt

    matt

    August 22nd, 2012 at 11:04 AM

    @Brandi A: while what you say is not wrong, things are a little different for us married folk! your relationship can affect things that you’d have never imagined and this does include your physical health and the exercise you undertake.also, a sour relationship will only drive you towards unhealthy eating habits and even drinking, things that can easily negate or overturn any exercise or weight loss activities that you undertake!

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