Amanda Pendolino
January 25, 2013

Can a ‘Mixed-Weight’ Relationship Work?

Can a “mixed-weight” relationship work? One study suggests probably not.

A recent study found that mixed-weight couples, in which one partner is overweight and one isn’t, experience more conflict.

The weight disparity was found to cause problems with intimacy and communication, especially in couples in which the woman is overweight and the man isn’t. These couples argued more and experienced more feelings of anger and resentment than same-weight couples.

“Everything revolved around weight, whether I was gaining, whether I was losing,” says Betsy Schow, 31, who met her husband during a “skinny period” but later gained weight. “What we eat, what we could do together.”

My instant reaction: well, sure. Guys are more superficial, while women are willing to look past a little weight gain — not to mention the fact that our society is more accepting of couples in which the man is overweight but the woman isn’t. Look at shows like The Simpsons, Family Guy, King of Queens, According to Jim and plenty of others for examples of this.

But sometimes conflict arises because the heavier partner is unhappy with his or her weight, whether the thinner person comments on it or not — and women are especially good at beating themselves up about things.

“I was afraid secretly that he was disgusted, or did not want to go out because he was embarrassed by me,” Schow continued.

I know that feeling all too well. I’ve personally dated a few guys who were thinner than I am — and even if they never said anything about it, I let it bother me.

TODAY‘s Al Roker, who has publicly struggled with his weight, had some wisdom to share about being in a mixed-weight relationship.

“I think if people are honest about it, weight plays a big part of anybody’s relationship,” writes Roker.

“Yes, what’s on the inside counts, there’s no question about that, but we’re a visual society; we are attracted to attractive people. It’s one thing if you’re both overweight, but when we’re talking about couples who are mixed-weight (I love the term mixed-weight couples; I’ve heard mixed-race couples, but mixed-weight?!), it plays a big deal, especially if one person is active and healthy and the other person is a bit of a couch potato.”

“It’s not like we’re being fat to spite the person who’s in good shape,” he continues. “That’s what the person who isn’t struggling needs to realize. It’s a vicious cycle because now you feel judged and you’re upset, and if that’s the case, what do you do? You eat. And then your spouse is upset.”

Roker is right. Psychiatrist Dr. Gail Saltz says the key to making a mixed-weight relationship work is to work together.

“If you do it as a team, the person who is overweight feels supported,” she says. Exercising and cooking healthy meals together can be positive things that bring people together; nagging can’t.

People who argue that you should just let weight issues go and focus on what’s truly important are oversimplifying a complex problem. Sure, you should love and respect your partner even if s/he gains weight (and insulting your wife seems like a pretty crappy idea in general) — but attraction is important in a healthy sex life, and weight gain can cause health problems that may lead to financial problems. A serious weight issue affects more than just the person who’s overweight.

It seems smart to choose a partner who’s similarly sized and has a similar diet and exercise regimen, but it’s hard to predict the future. People who stay thin without much effort may not always be that way.

Have you ever been in a mixed-weight relationship? What struggles did you and your partner face?