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Help! My Husband (or Wife) is Overweight and Flabby

If you are one of those life partners who feels angry or let down by the shape your spouse is in, this one's for you.

First, we need to know if being out of shape and overweight is a deal-breaker for you or an unmet expectation. If it is a deal-breaker, set a date for when you will leave if you don't get what you want.

If it is an unmet expectation, a problem of your own making, let's get to work on fixing this, because the resentment will kill your relationship.

Step one with any unmet expectation is to ask for what you want, and to do so with no hint of disapproval. If you have already heaped disapproval on your spouse about this issue, we'll skip this step.

Step two is to translate your expectation into a statement of why you want it: what's in it for you. You'll have to get brutally honest with yourself and maybe dig down a few layers.

Perhaps it's all about libido. You are turned on by muscles or by that can't pinch an inch look.

Or it could be about the respect you get from others when you are seen with your mate.

Or perhaps it affects what you can do together on your weekends and vacations.

It might be about your fear of fat or an unexercised heart bringing about an early death for your spouse.

Or you might discover you say it's about your mate's health when what you really mean is you want to protect your own health and you want your spouse to support you by dieting or running or going to the gym with you.

Be honest. You can't fix this until you are.

Step three is to find other ways to get what you need instead of telling your spouse what he or she ought to do. Do you have any friends who would exercise with you, or could you find some? Are there other things you can do to prepare for the possibility of outliving your spouse: life insurance? a strong network of friends? enough money in savings to take time off from work? better relations with your children or your siblings' children? Can you find other ways to boost your libido: new techniques? practice fantasizing? pay more attention to your mate's eyes or lips? become more playful? redecorate your bedroom? Are there other ways to earn respect as a couple? Are there things you have not tried yet for vacations and weekends that might replace the ones your spouse has opted out of?

Sometimes, there is a surprise step four, when your spouse sees you taking care of yourself and no longer feels dragged down by your resentment and nagging. Just when you know longer need it, you get what you thought your spouse owed you. That is because all of us really enjoy doing loving things far, far more than expected things.

Comments

Great post and timely topic, Patty. I can scarcely think of anything more important in a mate than how they care for themselves. Relationships depend on healthy brains and healthy brains come from exercise and eating well.

Not quite understanding, CJ. If Tammy stopped exercising and eating well, would she be less important to you?

Hi Patty. What if your spouse changes after marriage and develops a habit or characteristic that you find intolerable? In my case, I despise the "wandering eye" husband. Well, after 11 years of marriage, my husband became just that man. We have struggled for the past 6 years (just had our 17 year anniversary) with this, and I'm afraid we are both ready to give up.

Most days I believe that he loves me despite his unyielding attraction to other women. But most days that isn't enough, and I feel nothing but anger and resentment towards him and wonder if I want to stay married to him.

It has invaded every aspect of our marriage. I feel sad, alone and frustrated that he won't stop and if he won't stop, that I just am unable to accept his behavior as harmless. It seems ridiculous to end an marriage over how someone looks (and has not touched as far as I know) at other people, but yet I feel we are at that crossroad.

Any advice? Thank you.

KC, it sounds like you have already figured out he can love you and look at women. If you had not, I would recommend you Assume Love and consider how a man who loves his wife might take up looking at other women.

It also sounds like you find it pretty darn difficult to see his fascination with women the same way you would see a fascination with airplanes or orchids. And after six years, you're pretty wound up over it, not likely to be able to see other ways to get your own needs met instead of expecting him to stop looking.

So I am going to recommend, at this point, that you try for a Third Alternative. Alternative 1 is his needs get met by looking. Alternative 2 is your needs get met by training him not to look. The Third Alternative is one that meets both your needs and makes both of you at least as happy as the preferred one of your first two alternatives.

It will take some honesty. Does looking truly make him feel more alive? Does it help him deny a fear of getting older? Or is it a way of getting attention from you? Or perhaps punishing you for some unmet need of his? What is it you want more of that you feel his looking is keeping you from getting? And what is your initial reaction that you want to avoid? Before the anger, are you embarrassed, saddened, frightened, what?

Be wary of settling for "he doesn't look" as your desired outcome. There is some research to suggest that even very subtle efforts to prevent his looking make him pay more attention, at the unconscious level, to other women and erodes his commitment to you. Give some hard thought to what else would need to be happening for the looking not to matter to you. It might become part of your Third Alternative specs.

With a Third Alternative, you are both happy with the outcome. There is no shaming, just an acknowledgement that one person's way of being happy is interfering with the other's way (and vice versa), and these two ways are not the only ones available.

Once you write out the specs for a solution, they belong to both of you. You both seek to find a clever way to give your husband what he's looking for without creating emotions you can't handle. Together, you brainstorm new options.

If you cannot find them on your own, you now know what to ask your friends, clergy member, or therapist for, instead of support for the notion that there is something wrong with your spouse.

To make the brainstorming easier, put in a few specs about preserving what is great about your marriage. For example, DH (dear husband) continues to be an attentive lover. KC continues to organize social engagements both of us enjoy. We continue our Ground Hog Day gift-giving. DH's big enthusiasm for life is undampened. KC's modesty is not tested. That sort of thing.

There are things that are genuine deal-breakers, behaviors that convince us we no longer must uphold our end of those marriage vows. But there are also ongoing disagreements that wear us down until we believe we have no alternative but to walk away from an otherwise perfectly fine person. Sometimes, we just need to get a different perspective on the disagreement to return to a happy marriage.

Patty, in my 35 years of being a physician I have had the privilege of being welcomed into the intimate recesses of my patients' lives. I have heard many marital complaints about their spouse's attractiveness, including weight. The weight is usually a distraction from the real issues.
What are the real underlying issues?

-baggage from childhood/immaturity that makes intimacy scary. Much like in the movie Shallow Hal, even if a gorgeous person were to be found, the complaining spouse would find some superficial feature that bothered him/her.

-feelings of loss of control/inferiority that are managed by attacking the spouse on a vulnerable point - their attractiveness

It is interesting how some of my patients with the most hot sex lives have the most ordinary exteriors. Chubby, bald, grey, flabby. They talked openly about the importance of intimacy in their marriages. and emitted strong, sexy vibes.

Studies show that giving deadlines by which people should lose weight backfires: the person being pressured tends to feel helpless, scared and turn to food for comfort. The better way to help someone lose weight is:
-check on medical issues. People can have slow thyroids with normal TSH levels - the only thing doctors tend to check these days. Make sure you get free T3 and T4 levels along with TSH
There are many issues that can result in weight gain including stress which causes cortisol release

- does the overweight party lack time to take care of him/herself and feel overburdened? Food might be a comfort or food might be less than healthy because of eating on the run. It is far cheaper than a divorce to
get someone to prepare healthy dinners, to hire people to offload the overwhelmed spouse

-the complainant can consider treating their spouse as the hot person they desire. Pinch their rear end, send sexy notes, buy them sexy clothing, compliment them, make love in a very giving way. Buy a massage table, take a tantra course together. The song says "sing and dance, your heart will follow." As you start to focus on the sexy parts of your chubby spouse, and have hot prolonged sex with them, you will discover all that still attracts you to them and they will be far more motivated to stop using food as a crutch.

Remember: Christy Brinkley has never been an ounce overweight and managed to find four lousy husbands. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg is as plain as can be and had a husband who adored her.

If someone is picking on your outside, try hard not to take that negativity personally and see it for what it is: their issue. Buy sexy clothing, do things that are of the body and make you feel vibrant. Go dancing and enjoy the way other people in the group pick up on your hot vibe.

Of course if no children are involved, you might want to rid yourself of a spouse who picks on your appearance. What do you do if children are involved?

Given the high level of immaturity and childhood wounds in our society, along with the strong media focus on the external, this sort of struggle, over weight or other appearance issues, is sadly common.

It is extremely hurtful to children, in a society that focuses too much on the exterior, to see their parents split up over one parent's looks. I have seen children develop eating disorders over this. I highly advise against people divorcing over this issue when children are involved.

It is interesting how when the chubby spouse refuses to be diminished by attacks on their attractiveness, and even starts to rock a more sexy feeling with other people who see their vitality, their thighs will shape right up in their spouse's eyes, without losing a pound.

Excellent points, Susan. I hope very, very few people would ever think of weight gain as a deal-breaker, a situation that invalidates the promises they made. For most, it is just an unmet expectation to be dealt with so they can once again enjoy being married.

Both my husband and I are overweight. This was not a problem at first, but now it has affected our intimacy- we cannot have intercourse because I cannot straddle him and be close enough to him for penetration. We have bought items to help with positioning, but they are not helping. He doesn't want to have a doctor start him on a healthy eating plan because he says doctors know nothing about weight loss. He wants to find a nutritionist and he wants to start juicing. How can I encourage/motivate him? We did buy a weight bench and dumbbells as a Christmas present for us, but with my 5 day/ 12 hour work schedule, I can't help him to work out with the dumbbells

Hi, Teresa. If not being able to enjoy intercourse isn't motivating him, I'm not sure what might. But you can definitely encourage him.

You can start losing weight (if he's at all competitive), replace the unhealthy snacks in your home with healthy ones, change the dinner menu, pack healthy bag lunches, cook large batches of healthy foods on the days you don't work, even volunteer to do the incredible amount of chopping and cleanup required for juicing.

But it's clear your time for these things is limited. It may be worth it to order your food online to avoid impulse purchases when you're tired or hungry.

I would encourage the two of you to try Weight Watchers. I lost 130 pounds with them. Most meetings now have men in them. And many workplaces offer meetings at work. Their program has plenty of nutritionists involved in designing it, and juicing can fit into their program.

What I found helpful at the beginning of my weight loss was to put a one-pound bag of dried beans into a backpack for every pound I lost. I would wear it for 20 minutes a day while doing other things. Each time I took it off, I had a real reminder of the changes in my body.

While juices can be very healthy, the amount of "full" you get for every 100 calories is a lot less than what you get from eating the raw fruits and vegetables. One friend has gotten around this by putting the pulp cleaned out of the juicer into baked goods and casseroles. It's definitely a good idea to see a nutritionist for advice if you're taking this route.

To exercise away a pound, you need to burn 3500 calories. Lifting those weights for 45 minutes a day, it will take around 12 days to lose a pound. Skipping two cookies or 16 ounces of beer a day will take that same pound off in a week. Both, of course, is your best bet.

As his encourager, you may also want to think up a bunch of ways to celebrate accomplishments that do not involve food. And focus on the good eating accomplishments, not just the weight loss. Otherwise, the pounds go right back on when the weight loss stops.

I wish you both a much better sex life!

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Patty Newbold is a widow who got it right the second time...

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