Relationships after WLS – Helping Yourself Helps OthersNovember 25, 2015
I’ve heard it said that the only thing in life that remains constant is change. It seems there are greater times of change at some points in life than at others. And the weeks, months and the first couple of years following weight loss surgery are filled with more changes than at most other times in life! Aside from the physical changes in one’s body, the person that has lost weight experiences a number of changes in relationships after WLS.
The changes in a person’s relationship with themselves is the most important relationship to address. In fact, it so important that dealing with the changes in a person’s relationship with self, that the changes in other relationships, although significant and important, cannot be dealt with in optimally healthy ways until one deals with their inner changes.
A percentage of people who have weight loss surgery follow the rules for maintaining a healthy weight after the initial weight loss period (the “honeymoon”), and live life more fully than before they had weight loss surgery. My belief is that this group of people had a healthy self-esteem before weight loss surgery.
Struggling With Healthy Behaviors After WLS
After weight loss surgery, it is common for people to struggle with healthy behaviors and with themselves after surgery. They struggle mightily with regain and often find another unhealthy substance or behavior (transfer addictions) to replace the role that food played in their lives before WLS. This group of people, like most people in the world, struggle with their self-esteem and have “issues” to work through. These “issues” often stem from childhood events. Many people who have weight loss surgery have histories of being bullied at school, of watching or listening to their parents’ fight, of being cruelly criticized, and/or being sexually abused. Some of these people chose food as a way to cope through the difficult times, which became a habit and perhaps became a food addiction. Many people with backgrounds filled with trauma, abuse or neglect, have problems with self-esteem, a lack of self-efficacy, feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness, and, many times, a history of weight loss and regain. One of the worst things people abused or neglected in childhood do as adults is talk to, and about themselves, in negative ways. I say they are full of “stinkin’ thinkin’.”
People need to work through past issues and develop a healthier relationship with themselves in order to keep their weight off. They also need to work on healing their relationship with self so they can deal well with changes in other relationships after weight loss.
Improving a Relationship With Yourself
The most important thing one can do to improve their relationship with self is to work diligently on stopping their negative self-talk. Every time you hear yourself saying to yourself (or to anyone else), things like, “I’m a failure,” “Why do I even bother,” “What difference does it make if I …,” or things like, “I don’t even deserve to be healthy/have friends/lose weight/be loved,” force yourself to say, “STOP! I will only talk to myself kindly.” Until you learn to be kind to yourself, even when you make mistakes, then it’s going to be hard to have truly healthy relationships with yourself and others.
People who are chronically unhappy with themselves, and who treat themselves poorly with negative words and unhealthy behaviors, may look like they’re happy on the outside and may even have a (forced) smile on their face when they’re out in the world. They want others to think they’re happy and they want others to like them. At home, they are likely to be unkind to their “loved ones.” How unfair is it to treat people outside the home with a friendly smile and then scowl at the people you “love” because you’re unhappy with yourself?
Relationships After WLS With Family Members and Friends Change
If a relationship was healthy going into the surgery, it will probably survive quite well with the relationships after WLS. There are many very happy couples and families before and after WLS. In healthy family systems, people talk about the changes taking place, respect one another’s emotional and physical changes. They talk about how they feel and how they are experiencing the changes taking place. They work together throughout the process of weight loss, adjusting to the changes together.
There are significantly more coupleships that were not healthy before one of the couple had WLS. These relationships are at jeopardy after surgery. The person who lost weight, particularly if they don’t have a healthy self-esteem, will often do things in an effort to “make up for lost time.” They may start dressing too young for their age, start drinking much more than they did in the past, being social too much of the time, thereby disregarding their spouse and children’s needs for being part of their after-surgery life. Spouses of this type of WLS patient may get jealous or feel left out. In response, they may try to sabotage their partner’s weight loss. The spouse who did not have surgery no longer feels needed or wanted by the one who did have WLS. Many marriages that were unstable before weight loss surgery end in divorce after surgery. Children in these marriages are left confused, angry, and scared.
Changing Friendships After WLS
Friendships also change many times after a person has lost a significant amount of weight. No longer do the “heavy friends” of the WLS patient want to hang out with the person who lost weight. New relationships after WLS are started with others in the weight loss process or with people who once had nothing to do with the person before they lost weight. If you have a friendship with someone that isn't a healthy relationship, don't eat from it but take a hard look at it to decide what is best for you.
Those who have weight loss surgery and adjust to it well, often experience an increase in self-esteem. As self-esteem improves, people start setting healthy boundaries with others and take better care of themselves. In doing this, they may lose some relationships with people who don’t like the changes and make healthier relationships with people who respect the person for setting boundaries.
Improved self-esteem often affects your relationships with other people in positive ways. Family and friends may be excited about the positive changes they see in how you feel about, and treat yourself. In turn, they may want to spend more time around you and will likely respond to you by treating you even better than they did before.
You can help your loved ones if they feel threatened by the healthy changes in your life by reassuring them, inviting them to join you in activities, and by reminding them of their importance in your life. When they are more comfortable in their role within the relationship, they’ll know better how to support you, and the next thing you know, those relationships after WLS can actually start developing into deeper, more intimate ones. What a positive chain reaction! Helping yourself often results in helping others! So do yourself a favor throughout your weight loss journey – improve your relationship with yourself and watch as other relationships in your life improve, as well!
ABOUT THE AUTHORConnie Stapleton, PhD is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist with nearly two decades of experience in the field of bariatric medicine. Dr. Stapleton is the author of three books, is a national and international speaker, and appears as the bariatric psychologist on three national television programs. Read more articles by Connie Stapleton!