- HEALTH TRACKER
|by Kathleen Nickerson, PhD
Almost all of your close relationships will change substantially when you experience dramatic weight loss, but your marriage or partnership is likely to change the most. It is true that a very high percentage of weight loss surgery patients get divorced within the first two years after weight loss surgery; however, this does not mean it will happen to you. You and your partner can prepare for the change and have an even better relationship as a result!
As for why this happens, there are many answers. Some people become more outgoing and socially extroverted as weight loss progresses. With weight loss, some individuals see themselves as being attractive to new groups of people that they felt were inaccessible before. Some people have underlying psychological reasons for being overweight. Not only do post-ops face the stress of implementing new behavior patterns, they may also mourn the loss of the relationship they had with food. Some people report being addicted to food, and they may be at risk for trading one type of addiction for another. Such substitution behaviors—starting to drink more alcohol, starting to use drugs, abusing prescription drugs, increasing sexual behavior, shopping excessively or gambling—may become temptations when the food cravings can’t be satisfied.
One thing seems to be true of how most marriages change with WLS: the surgery intensifies the state of the relationship. If your marriage is a strong one, it is likely to stay strong—as long as you prepare and talk openly and honestly about your wants, needs and expectations of the relationship. If your marriage is not as strong, WLS is likely to stress it even further. If your marriage could use a little help, I strongly recommend working with a marriage counselor before the weight loss surgery. Whether your relationship is great right now or could use some fine-tuning, the tips below are designed to enhance your marriage before, during and after WLS.
As you change, your relationship needs to adapt. The secrets to a strong and loving relationship are talking and listening.
Secrets to Talking
Say what’s on your mind. Express your concerns, worries and fears. Problems don’t get better if we ignore them.
Really say what you mean. Don’t hint, just kindly ask for what you want or need. Hinting statement: “Don’t you think it’s hot in here?” Kind request: “Honey, would you please adjust the AC? I am really hot.”
Beware of ESP, wishing and wondering. Don’t expect someone to read your mind. ESP example: “What is he doing over there? Doesn’t he know I need help?” Wishing statement: “I sure wish you’d go with me. You know I don’t like to go alone.” Wondering statement: “I wonder if you’re concerned about the dishes piling up?”
Say what you want, not what you don’t want. We often spend more time saying what we do not want, which leaves our partner wondering what we do want. Make it easy on them: tell them what you want. Don’t want statement: “I don’t want to go to that boring movie.” Do want statement: “I really want to go see that new Anthony Hopkins thriller.”
Make requests instead of complaints. Complaint: “I don’t like that outfit you’re wearing.” Request: “That outfit is pretty casual for the restaurant we’re going to. I’d feel more comfortable if you wore something a little dressier, especially since I am wearing a suit.”
Use gentle, calming and emotional words. Inflammatory statement: “Mark, stop driving like a maniac! You’re going to get us killed, and when you make those sharp turns, I want to throw up!” Calming statement: “Mark, I’m feeling a little sick. Would you please drive more slowly?”
Speak about yourself instead of speaking for the other person. Speaking for someone else: “You make me feel unattractive: you never compliment me.” Speaking about yourself: “I feel unattractive. When you don’t compliment me, I think I must not look good to you.”
Use “I” statements. Your statement: “You never help me around the house!” I statement: “I’m really pretty wiped out. Would you please help me with the laundry?”
The magic expression: “When you _____, I _____.” This works wonders with almost any situation. If you use the template above, you can tell your partner what they are doing or saying that is hurting you and then follow it up with a request.
Five things to avoid: Guessing what your partner is feeling, guessing what your partner is thinking, labeling your partner, criticizing your partner and commanding your partner to do or not do something.
Secrets to Listening
Actively listen. Listen for what is right, what is true, what is useful and what makes sense in what your partner says. If you can find some truth in what your partner says and acknowledge that, it will do wonders.
Instead of saying “but,” say “and.” But statement: “You could go play poker with the guys, but you promised me you’d clean the garage.” And statement: “I think it would be great if this weekend you could play poker with the guys and clean the garage.”
Pay attention to your body language.
Focus on what your partner is saying. You can look for the TV remote in a few minutes.
No one expects you to fix everything or know everything. Just listen and be sensitive.
Avoid listening like a lawyer, judge or detective. You’re not trying to find fault or start a fight; you’re listening to learn.
Show your partner you understand. It’s magic to say, “So it sounds like you’d really like me to spend more time helping the kids with their homework, and tomorrow night I will check with them before we eat dinner.” You can show you understand by repeating what you heard, nodding your head, asking a question to clarify what you heard or making a statement that builds on what your partner has said.
Express empathy. Here’s a great template: “I can understand that you’re _____. If that happened to me, I’d feel the same way.”
Finally, I’d like to offer my very best tip for stopping an argument: When responding to your partner during a discussion, first respond to their emotion (are they sad? hurt? angry? frustrated?) and then respond to the content.
For example, in response to “When you are not here for dinner, I miss you and I feel like our time together is not important to you. I’d really like it if you could make it a priority to be here by six, or if not, just call me and let me know when to expect you,” I might say, “Sweetheart, I am sorry that I hurt you by not being home for dinner. You are a priority to me and I will make sure to be home or let you know.”
Kathleen Nickerson, PhD, is a licensed clinical psychologist who specializes in working with couples and bariatric issues. In her practice, she teaches couples and families how to strengthen their relationships. Additionally, as a bariatric specialist, she writes articles and speaks to professionals on caring for people before and after weight loss surgery. She may be reached by phone at 949-222-6688 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.