How to Support Your Partner’s Weight Loss Goals
If your significant other is losing weight, you’ll need to be there for them during a vulnerable time while navigating changes to your lifestyle and relationship.
If your partner is losing weight, you’ll need to be there for them during a vulnerable time while still managing your own emotions and reactions to the changes occurring in your relationship.
But your support is key. Research published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships in February 2018 that looked at the role of marriage in a person’s weight loss success found that people had an easier time losing weight when their partners accommodated their dietary and lifestyle changes and had a team attitude. On the other hand, those whose partners had opposing views about weight loss or trouble balancing their partner’s weight loss needs with the needs of the relationship acted as obstacles.
While the idea of supporting your partner as they lose weight is great in theory, what does it actually look like? To best answer that question, you’ll first want to understand how weight loss impacts the relationship.
Weight Loss Lifestyle Changes Affect Both of You
The lifestyle shift that naturally occurs when one person loses weight can make it feel like you’re walking different paths.
“If a couple enjoyed going to a ballpark together and sharing beer and hot dogs, and now one spouse is on a quest to lose weight, they may lose activities that created valuable time together,” says therapist Genesis D. Ettienne, a licensed mental health counselor, and marriage and family therapy and educator at Pritikin Longevity Center in Miami.
One Partner Can Take Over the Other’s Decision to Lose Weight
Another issue to watch out for is the tendency for the supportive partner to hijack the other’s decision to lose weight, says Avigail Lev, PsyD, a licensed clinical psychologist at Bay Area CBT Center in San Francisco. This means that instead of focusing on your partner’s reasons for losing weight, you’re more focused on the other benefits of their weight loss that you might be excited about that were not part of their decision-making process.
Maybe your partner wants to shed pounds because their blood pressure is too high, but now you’re constantly talking about how nice they’ll look in a bathing suit. Not only will this make them feel bad about themselves, but you’re also making the journey about you. According to Dr. Lev, this is a big obstacle to successful weight loss because in order to stay motivated, people need to feel they’re doing things for their own reasons rather than feeling like they’re doing something for someone else.
Weight Loss Can Bring Up Vulnerable Feelings for Both Partners
While the decision to get to a healthy weight is a huge positive on many levels, it’s bound to bring up painful feelings at times, and those can impact relationships, says Lev. For example, even if someone is losing weight because they want to feel better about how they look, having their partner comment on them looking better can still be hurtful.
The supportive partner can also struggle, says Rachel Goldman PhD, a licensed psychologist and assistant clinical professor at NYU Grossman School of Medicine in New York City, who specializes in weight management. With less shared time together, they may start to feel left out or even jealous. If those feelings aren’t addressed, it can lead to conflict in the relationship.
Some partners may feel threatened when their spouse attracts more attention from admirers, according to the Obesity Action Coalition. Or they might feel envious of their partner’s weight loss and attractiveness, or disconnected from their partner. According to a study published in Annals of Surgery Open in September 2022, adults who are married and get bariatric (weight loss) surgery are more than twice as likely to get divorced.
“This could indicate that a patient’s changing lifestyle post-surgery put them out of sync with their spouse,” the study’s lead author said in a press release. “It can be really hard when one spouse changes what they eat and how active they are, and desires more sexual activity, while the other doesn’t.”
How to Support Your Partner’s Weight Loss
While a partner’s weight loss can present relationship challenges, it also offers opportunities to build a healthier relationship, says Ettienne. Here are four ways you can support your partner and feel connected throughout their weight loss journey.
Understand Why They Are Losing Weight
According to Lev, “The No. 1 way to support your partner is to ask your partner, why are you losing weight? What made you make this decision? And how can I support you in that decision?”
Don’t make assumptions. Having an open conversation about why your partner is losing weight will keep the focus on them and minimize the chance that you could project your own motivations onto your partner.
Keeping the focus on their motivations isn’t just respectful, it’s also a more effective approach to supporting them, says Lev. As soon as it starts to feel like they’re changing because someone else wants them to, for reasons they didn’t choose, they can start feeling controlled and pressured, which will compromise their success.
Ask Them How You Can Support Their Weight Loss
It may seem obvious, but to best support your partner, ask them about it, says Lev. Just like every person has their own reasons for losing weight, they also have their own preferred ways of being supported.
Ask them: Do you need help cooking meals? Do you want lots of compassion, encouragement, and emotional support? Maybe you want help with practical things like keeping sweets out of sight or out of the house. Keep what they need from you in mind when it comes to support, she says.
“Some people would rather you just say validating words like ‘I’m so proud of you. That was really hard,” says Lev. “Whereas other people want acts of service like you making a nice breakfast for them.”
Find New, Healthy Ways to Bond
Use your partner’s change in lifestyle as a reason to create new, healthy bonding rituals, says Ettienne. Replace movie-and-pizza nights with shared meal prepping, romantic hikes, and planning for goal-oriented rewards. Not only will it help you both feel more connected, but it will also show your partner you’re in it together.
“Become an active participant, not just a spectator,” says Ettienne.
One person’s weight loss can sometimes take the fun out of relationships, so get creative with being healthy, she said. Think finding new restaurants to try, fun nights cooking together, and dance classes.
Communicate About Your Feelings and Future
Last but not least, keep open communication throughout the weight loss journey, says Robertson.
“I always recommend that couples discuss what their life may look like when one partner decides to go on a health journey,” she says. “It’s a great time to be honest and open with each other and to get each other’s support.”
Remember that you both may have fragile feelings, and support is a two-way street. It’s normal for the person who is not losing weight to feel a little jealous or left out, and to ask for support for those feelings, too.