MY SPOUSE HAS CHANGED Since I Lost Weight!

Change. One doesn’t always know what to expect when CHANGE occurs. This makes the prospect of taking actions that result in change somewhat frightening. When you made the decision to have weight loss surgery (WLS), you were aware that numerous aspects of your life would change… from the food selections you make, to the size of clothing you wear, to the emotions you experience as the weight melts away, to the ways other people respond to you. Those other people include your immediate family. More specifically, your spouse!
 
How has your spouse changed since you lost weight? OH member VioletKidd shared this: “My husband has lost 20 pounds since my surgery - and he’s thrilled about it. He’s taken over a lot of the cooking and goes to the grocery store with me (so he’ll have what he wants to eat). He’s very supportive and a great partner. Both of our diets have changed and he’s accepted the changes.” This is an ideal outcome related to the changes Violet has made in her life. A supportive spouse who actively participates in the changes required for sustained weight loss is a gift! An especially positive aspect of Violet’s situation is that she and her husband have made the grocery shopping (and therefore meals) a winwin situation. She wins because he goes grocery shopping with her, which likely provides her with emotional support. We all know that shopping for food after WLS can be an emotionally unpleasant experience! Violet’s husband wins because he is selecting food he likes. In addition, he is losing weight and improving his health. And he’s doing the cooking, which in my book, is a great big win for Violet!
 
Violet’s story suggests to me that she and her husband have a good thing going in their relationship. They are partners in their choice to improve their health. Having common goals is a wonderful way for spouses to enjoy one another, to spend time together, to work together and to celebrate together!
 
Vicki C’s husband “has become very demonstrative to me. He’s more supportive than he’s ever been in our married life. He’s been my best cheerleader since my surgery. He is very complimentary about my size. Before, he never seemed to notice my body size. He was with me through the days following surgery, preparing my food, helping me bathe, all the necessities! He was a vital and active part of my experience. He’s proud of that, I think!” Another win-win story! Vicki obviously got a lot of help from her husband after her surgery. She has also gotten a lot of positive affirmation and affection from her spouse. It’s fun to hear Vicki acknowledge that her husband is proud of his contribution, which makes him a winner, too! This sort of mutual acknowledgement leads to additional positive behaviors toward one another and makes marriages happy and strong.
 
Reina from New York said that her husband “who has not always been supportive, has actually been positive. He has helped me keep to my diet but hasn’t been shy about eating all those forbidden foods in front of me… to test my willpower and strength, he claims.” Reina, too, has support from her husband. She did not, however, say how she feels about his “testing” her by eating things she can’t have. This may not bother her in the least. Or it may be frustrating (or worse)!
 
Reina’s situation is a common one. Spouses may not change some of their behaviors even though it would help the WLS partner if they would. That doesn’t mean the spouse doesn’t love, support or want the best for their partner. What does it mean? It could mean any number of things. It may mean that the couple has never discussed what to eat or not to eat in front of the other after surgery. It could mean that the spouse who didn’t have the surgery doesn’t understand how or why eating certain things in front of the WLS partner is problematic. In either case, the solution is simple: the couple needs to talk about it! If the WLS partner tells their spouse that eating certain foods in front of them is bothersome, their partner needs to respect the request and refrain from chowing on the chips, munching on the M&M’s and downing the donuts in front of their loved one who is working hard to improve their health. Reina also noted, “At times, insecurities cause negative reactions.” This is very common when a spouse loses weight. It’s also a natural response. Insecurity only becomes problematic if it is acted out in negative ways. For example, if insecurity leads to sabotaging behavior (bringing unhealthy foods into the home or suggesting dinner at the buffet restaurant), or controlling behavior (making accusations about fidelity or name-calling), and if there were no problems in the marriage before the weight loss, there are sure to be problems after the surgery if the insecure behaviors continue. When one spouse is feeling insecure in a relationship, they need reassurance from the other. Reassurance may be in the form of a soft touch on the arm, a whispered sweet-nothing in the ear, a bouquet of flowers for no reason, or a smile and a wink that says “You’re the one I love.” We all need reassurance from time to time. Give it to one another freely, lovingly, flirtingly, genuinely or playfully. Just give it. Your spouse is naturally a bit insecure watching their mate shed pounds, gain confidence and maybe strut their stuff a bit!
 
Lorrie G’s husband also demonstrated some signs of insecurity after she had surgery. “Since my surgery, my husband has begun to notice that other men are noticing me. I believe he was worried about our relationship, always asking if we are okay.” She reassures him, noting, “I continue to tell him as long as we have communication, we will be fine.” Lorrie’s husband is responding in a positive way: “He is trying to focus more on me. He is going to the gym and walking with me. He has really stepped up on compliments and pays more attention to my wants and desires.” Lorrie’s gentle assurance encourages her husband to turn his insecurity into behaviors that reinforce their relationship. Like many people having WLS, Lorrie and her husband are at the age when their children are moving out of the house. “Now that the kids are on their own, it’s back to us having time for ourselves. We are relearning who we fell in love with. And so our new life begins. I am waiting to see where it takes us.” Based on what Lorrie shared about how her husband is participating in her weight loss process, the ways he compliments her and how he pays attention to her needs and wants, it’s a safe bet that their love will continue to grow.
 
Think about your family as if it were a musical mobile with little animals that hangs over a baby’s crib. All of the animals go around and around and the mobile is balanced. If you took scissors and cut the string that held the giraffe, it would fall off. In addition, the rest of the mobile would be imbalanced. All of the other animals’ lives would have changed. That’s what happens when a family member has weight loss surgery. They change, which causes the entire family system to change. How each person deals with the changes will determine if the family system will find a new, healthy balance or if the
mobile will be permanently imbalanced.
 
Each of the family members need to talk about how their life has changed as a result of their loved one’s weight loss surgery. Spouses, especially, need to share their thoughts and feelings with one another. It’s okay to admit having fears that other people are looking at your smaller honey in a “new way.” It’s okay to ask for reassurance from each other. It’s joyful to share your appreciation for one another. The spouse who had surgery can do wonders for their partner by acknowledging their physical and emotional help after surgery. The partner who did not have surgery can thrill their spouse by complimenting their efforts toward weight loss and healthy new habits. These behaviors will result in an ongoing cycle of positive words and actions from one spouse to another. That can only lead to good things in the relationship!
 
Spouses will change after you have weight loss surgery… just as you will change. By working together, you can steer the changes in a positive direction! Talk to each other. Listen to one another. Be vulnerable with each other. Celebrate each other and the opportunity you have to explore all sorts of new and exciting aspects of life after losing weight! Change can be scary. Okay! So do the healthy thing and “feel the fear and do it anyway!” Take positive risks after surgery. Do fun new activities together. Start a project that you can do with one another. Live together. Learn together. Change together. Love together. 

Connie Stapleton, PhD, is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist and owner of Mind/Body Health Services in Augusta, Georgia. She is the author of Eat It Up-The Complete Mind/Body/ Spirit Guide to a Full Life After Weight Loss Surgery.