The Biggest Reasons Marriages Fail After WLSAugust 2, 2021
It’s common knowledge that one of the biggest struggles after weight loss surgery is relationships and marriages. There are many reasons that marriages fail after WLS. Many people freak out that they will succumb to this statistic once they have weight loss surgery. To unravel the mystery and separate fact from fiction, I’ve compiled nine reasons why relationships and marriages fail after WLS to help people navigate this process.
You can also view my article on OH about how to create a better relationship after weight loss surgery if you are struggling as well. Having weight loss surgery is not a death sentence for your relationship if you’ve had a healthy relationship beforehand. Moreover, this process is about evaluating what’s best for you and your life moving forward. Not all relationships are created equal.
The Biggest Reasons Marriages Fail After WLS
Marriages Fail After WLS: There was a good amount of marital issues or the marriage was on the brink prior to weight loss surgery
Sometimes people stay in a relationship because it feels safe, they don’t know anything else, or they fear being alone, unwanted, or even fear rejection from the outside world. There can be 1001 reasons why someone will stay in a relationship, and usually, it’s because, as the saying goes, “the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t.”
This means that staying in the relationship, while painful and uncomfortable, is more born out of survival than pleasure. In my experience working with couples, people stay in a relationship because it’s comfortable and because it is what they know even when they dislike their partner or are completely unhappy. They stick it out and struggle through it.
Most often, it’s the fear of being alone that causes people to stay in a relationship longer because the validation of being in the relationship helps them identify with something other than themselves.
Being single can be lonely, and for someone struggling with obesity, sometimes having someone, anyone, is better than being alone. Additionally, the thought of rocking the boat seems to be more fearful than keeping the status quo. Although the individuals may not be happy, they suffer through it pretending because, as one client stated, “a bad relationship is better than no relationship at all.”
Some people don’t even know their relationship is bad until after weight loss surgery, and they have done some sufficient work on themselves. The work they do beyond the weight in rediscovering themselves opens their eyes to unhappy and dysfunctional the relationship actually is. This is when they have difficulty coming to terms with their unhappiness and what to do with a stagnant and dying relationship. This is one of the many reasons marriages fail after WLS.
Many still decide to stay, while others take action and seek to go to counseling to attempt to work on it or seek a breakup or divorce.
In other words, most often when a relationship breaks up, one person has grown enough within themselves to say ‘enough is enough' and let go of a failing marriage or relationship mostly because they have finally gained the courage, strength, or self-esteem to release a relationship that has been going south or has been over a long time before.
Many individuals seem to have been ‘going through the motions long before they realize consciously that they are unhappy. Admitting this may on the outside seem easy; however, it’s usually been a long-time coming, and the avoidance of the inevitable rises to the surface of the relationship.
Most recently, one of my clients told me that she’s been in a “roommate” situation with her husband a very long time before getting her RNY surgery and long before she ever thought about asking for a divorce. She shared that she wasn’t happy and felt trapped. She said she struggled with whether she could handle the bills on her own because prior to WLS, she didn’t work and had difficulty moving due to her obesity, relying on him for most everything.
After her WLS, she started to change things in her life and recognized how long the relationship was over, how she felt she was staying for the wrong reasons, and decided to end it. He relied on her for his self-esteem, and this process was hard on both of them. She was ready to move on, and he felt betrayed by her surgery, stating that if she had not changed due to losing weight, she wouldn’t have ever left him.
Marriages Fail After WLS: Jealousy issues or possessiveness that arose after weight loss surgery
Trust is one of if not the most important factors in a relationship or marriage. If trust is gone in a relationship, what do you have left?
Jealousy can happen when one or both partners begin to strut their stuff after losing a lot of weight. Insecurities and tensions can increase the fear that one’s partner can be more attractive to others and as a result, accusations of infidelity can arise. Accusations create barriers between people and trust hangs in the balance.
Jealousy can cause serious problems of mistrust within a relationship because of one’s own inadequacies and fears of losing their partner. While this may not directly lead to a partner cheating, it can lead to increased mistrust causing additional issues and other behavioral patterns which lead to secretive behaviors on behalf of one person or possessiveness on behalf of the other.
This is more of a push-pull type scenario where one person feels controlled, and the other person feels a loss of control over the relationship. The jealousy and possessiveness create doubt and mistrust, which can inevitably lead to a breakup. Independent behavior can also play a role in this situation as well if one person has started behaving differently, leading to arguments, disagreements, alienation, and eventually break up or divorce.
Marriages Fail After WLS: One partner or the other has drastically changed internally/emotionally after WLS and no longer fulfill one another
Change is likely to happen after weight loss surgery. Most often I’ve seen where the WLS patient is very subservient, quiet, or dependent prior to surgery either out of survival or because of low self-esteem. Following surgery, many people gain the confidence they did not have before. Then as a result of this confidence, they realize that they have not been true to themselves. Then they change emotionally. They become more confident, more self-realized, more active, etc.
This whole process can be almost like an awakening where the weight loss surgery patient was very passive as an obese person, and now as a thinner person, they are active, engaged, and doing things they might have never done before.
In my work, I’ve seen clients who had gone from being bedridden to running 5k’s. In a relationship where dependency or living as a dependent is part of the status quo, this change can upset the family system leading to greater strife.
Marriages Fail After WLS: You have grown apart instead of growing together (communication issues, different personalities, boundary issues, misunderstandings, etc.)
Poor interpersonal communication skills are not exclusive to the bariatric community. It contributes to overall relationship or marital dysfunction and after weight loss surgery where tensions may be high because of interpersonal change, the communication piece can get worse instead of better.
One’s perception of what is said is also a struggle within the communication. The tone of voice, inflection, as well as what is said are all important parts of the communication process.
Passive-aggressive communication, a lack of communication, poor boundary setting, and personality changes are just a few things that can cause couples to grow apart. Independent behavior which is also noted in one of the other reasons listed can create anger and resentment within relationships.
While this is not exclusive to weight loss surgery patients, this can contribute to the termination of a relationship because of an individual’s interpretation of what is said, how it’s said, one’s own insecurities due to the weight loss, fear of partner sabotage, or misunderstandings or perception of events.
Marriages Fail After WLS: One partner is more independent as a result of WLS
Whenever there is a level of dependence, a relationship can crumble as a result. As I’ve eluded to in the above notes, dependency, whether financial, emotional, or physical, can make or break a relationship. If a partner is dependent on another, this can crumble after WLS because either party may realize this arrangement is no longer working for them. They want to be more independent, or they want a partner who is more independent. This dynamic is similar to or may have elements of other points on this list.
If not discussed and worked through as a couple in how to work together on this, it becomes an issue of one person changed and the other person didn’t, resulting in the termination of the relationship.
Marriages Fail After WLS: The attraction just isn’t there anymore
Attraction issues can go in two directions. The term that I heard used most often within the community is that one’s partner is a “chubby chaser,” and they prefer a larger or bigger person. When the partner loses weight, they lose the attraction because they are attracted to someone heavier.
This can be devastating to the person who has lost weight because they attempt to lose weight for their health and overall wellbeing. However, for some individuals who are sexually attracted to an obese individual, they may feel disregarded or their desires discounted. This can also lead to either immediate relationship/marriage dissolution or the obese admirer to seek relations elsewhere, also ending the relationship.
Marriages Fail After WLS: Someone in the relationship has engaged in an extra-marital relationship before or after WLS
Affairs or extra-marital relationships happen for any number of reasons. The reasons why people cheat or engage in relationships outside of a marriage could be an article of its own. As noted above, it could be due to a change in attraction. It could also be due to massive amounts of ‘new attention’ the WLS patient has moved into the arms of another because they feel wanted, needed, etc. It may also be that one or both parties are not happy and do not know how to end the relationship, or through a chance meeting with someone else, a new relationship is sparked.
If the affair happened before WLS and if the couple has not worked out their issues or forgiven the affair, it could be that the dissolution of the relationship is related to residual anger or marital distress.
Cheating or an extra-marital relationship can have massive consequences on trust, increasing jealousy and decreasing healthy communication. Additionally, if someone feels they’ve been betrayed, it may be very difficult to get over. The new relationship could be a way of moving on and as a way to exit an unhappy relationship.
Marriages Fail After WLS: You or your partner realizes that one of you was “settling” or there is a total disregard for one’s partner.
No one ever wants to feel “settled for” in a relationship. The whole premise of love and romance is to be excited to be with someone and to spend your life with them as a partner. In this situation, the love, the spark, the romantic feelings are gone, and sometimes even the friendship is obligatory.
Settling is one of the biggest issues because this means there is no longer mutual admiration, love, trust, and/or friendship. The whole premise of “settling” is that the relationship is no longer fulfilling and is causing more pain than pleasure.
While many individuals may have a set of values that they should “work on their relationship” to improve upon it, others may not be willing to do the work to salvage the relationship.
Marriages Fail After WLS: There is and/or was a history of abuse within the relationship (emotional, physical, verbal, or otherwise)
Even if abuse is present before weight loss surgery, the person experiencing the abuse may not have the self-esteem or the ability to leave the relationship, especially due to the nature of the abuse cycle. The cycle of abuse is typically about power and control. Therefore, it takes a lot of personal growth for someone to decide that enough is enough and to leave the relationship for their own sanity, strength, or health/wellbeing.
This is a big bold move, and for someone to recognize that they stayed in an unhealthy place for far too long, it may be very empowering and freeing to leave. For the partner who is the abuser, controller, etc., this process may be even more difficult and could cause potential harm to the individual trying to leave the relationship.
Marriages Fail After WLS: Partner sabotage
When one or both partners have weight loss surgery, there may be some that intentionally or unintentionally sabotage their partner. Change is difficult for some people to deal with. Most recently, one of my clients shared that how her husband showed love was by buying food for her, such as sweets, ice cream, cakes, cookies, etc. While some people have habits of showing love this way, it needs to be communicated that ‘food as gifts of love’ is no longer acceptable.
It may also be difficult if one’s partner is not on board with his/her spouse’s weight loss surgery. Also, if there is a “deal with it” type attitude when it comes to carb-laden food in the house, this is an indicator of struggles to come because the WLS patient will feel undermined, disrespected, and tempted by prohibited foods. The act of bringing something into the house may be a trigger for the new WLS patient.
This is why it is essential to have an open dialogue about what type of foods are okay to keep at home and what foods need to be ditched from the house for good. If a partner is supportive, he/she will do their best to help the WLS patient focus on their post-op changes.
If a partner is not supportive, there may be behaviors that could be deemed as spiteful, inconsiderate, or even sabotaging in nature.
Discussing this upfront may help prevent these types of issues. However, if one’s partner is a food addict, is an emotional eater, or is also obese or having issues with food, this may be a struggle of power and control until the second person takes action on his/her own behavior.
The cause for relationship dissolution or divorce doesn’t necessarily land in any one specific category or reasons as listed above. It could be that multiple issues or reasons contributed to the breakup.
There can be multiple other reasons that people decide to call it quits. These listed above are the most common and most explanatory reasons that people change internally in addition to their weight loss or physical change.
Change is inevitable when going through this weight loss process. It is strongly advised that individuals seeking to save their marriage or relationship work with a marriage counselor/family therapist or local pastor to help them work through the changes to focus and understand having a healthier and happier relationship.
ABOUT THE AUTHORKristin Lloyd, PhD is a licensed psychotherapist, mindset mentor, certified clinical hypnotherapist, and energy psychology practitioner guiding individuals to embrace healthy habits and fuller lives after WLS. A WLS patient herself, Kristin understands the challenges of WLS patients. She is the founder of Bariatric Mindset and author of the two bestselling books: Bariatric Mindset Success and Release Your Regain; both available on Amazon.
Read more articles from Dr. Kristin!