Many women in long-term relationships face the painful experience of being told by their partners that they are no longer attractive due to weight gain.
And while it’s easy for us as women to just point the finger and say, “men are a bunch of assholes”, I suspect that in reality, it’s a lot more nuanced than that. I invited my very kindhearted husband to have a conversation about this so that I could hear a male perspective on this issue, too. And today, I want to share what we discussed around men and women’s body image issues, using weight as a deflection tool, and what we ultimately learned around the importance of communication between partners.
The Complexity of Emotions
The journey of understanding begins with acknowledging the intricate web of emotions that underpin this issue. Women frequently find themselves ensnared in cycles of negative self-perception, where external criticisms manifest internally, leading to feelings of unworthiness and inadequacy. The societal pressure to conform to narrow beauty standards exacerbates these struggles, perpetuating the narrative that thinness equates to desirability. Consequently, weight becomes an easy scapegoat, conveniently obscuring deeper issues within the relationship.
Unraveling the Truth
What appears as such a simple statement – “I’m not attracted to you because you’ve gained weight” – belies a more complex reality. There may be unspoken emotions and unaddressed insecurities from both sides.
Men, too, grapple with their own vulnerabilities, often projecting their internal turmoil onto their partners. It may stem from a deep-seated fear of inadequacy or an inability to confront underlying emotional distress. But blaming weight always seems a much easier way out than confronting any of these deeper issues.
And this is a pattern that plays out all the time with my clients. For example, a client of mine might have an awful day at work, where her boss made her feel completely undervalued or discouraged at work. When she comes home, that feeling of anger is so strong that she ends up eating to comfort herself because she can’t handle feeling those big emotions. And then as she eats, she starts to get angry that she’s eating. She starts to call herself fat. And then all of a sudden, her being fat is the problem and the real issues of feeling undervalued is forgotten.
For some reason, it’s just so much easier to blame our bodies than it is to actually face some of the other difficult challenges that we’re experiencing in life. And so when you’re 20 years into a marriage, have grown a little bit apart, and may not actually be in love anymore, the thought of facing that and deciding what needs to be done with all of those changed feelings is really hard. It’s just so much easier to just say, “well, I’m not attracted to you anymore because you’re fat.”
In our own relationship, my husband Rob and I have faced similar challenges. There were times when we felt a strain on our attraction towards each other. It led us to have deep conversations where we honestly shared our feelings about our bodies. These talks helped us realize that what makes us attracted to each other goes beyond just looks. It includes things like our own insecurities and how we live our lives day-to-day.
The Importance of Communication
Talking openly with each other is crucial in solving problems. Creating a safe space where we both feel comfortable sharing our thoughts and feelings is key. This means not just listening but also understanding and being open about our own vulnerabilities. When we create an atmosphere of trust and acceptance, we can talk about sensitive topics with kindness and understanding.
Sometimes when we’re having these really difficult conversations about things that we’re each feeling very vulnerable (or even ashamed) about, it becomes easier to attack than to actually feel those emotions. When you are able to recognize the need to stop and say, “we need to take a step back and stop attacking”, you can often go on to have a much more productive conversation.
You have to have the right timing of when to have that conversation. And sometimes, you need to give a person the time to either listen, to calm down, or actually time to speak. If one person is dominating that conversation, all it’s going to do is make them raise their shoulders, cross their arms, hunch their head down, and get completely closed off. It’s about breaking the cycle of blame and fostering understanding and connection instead.
Ultimately, Rob and I both emphasize the importance of open and honest communication about bodies in relationships. This doesn’t mean focusing solely on physical flaws but rather creating an environment where both partners feel free to express their thoughts and feelings without fear of judgment. It’s about embracing vulnerability and cultivating deeper intimacy through shared understanding and acceptance.
There’s no doubt that talking about bodies in relationships is challenging. But by addressing underlying issues, fostering empathy, and prioritizing open communication, couples can navigate these sensitive conversations with grace and understanding. It’s not easy, but it’s necessary for building strong, healthy relationships grounded in mutual respect and acceptance.