Dr. J offers his irreverent, slightly irrelevant, but possibly useful opinions on health and fitness. A Florida surgeon and fitness freak with a black belt in karate, he runs 50 miles a week and flies a Cherokee Arrow 200.
Some Say They Will, Some Say They Won’t; Some Say I Do, Some Say I Don’t
A recent study looked into the increased risk of divorce when there is both excessive and unequal drinking of alcohol by couples.
High levels of drinking have been shown to predict divorce. The usual explanation for this is that this alcohol use can disrupt daily activities and functioning, and increase conflict.
“Essentially, the more people drink, the higher is the risk of divorce,” said Fartein Ask Torvik, a researcher at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health and head author for the study. “In addition, the risk of divorce is lowered if the spouses drink approximately the same amount of alcohol. This is not only true for those who drink excessively — there is also a reduced risk of divorce if both spouses abstain totally from alcohol. Also, we found heavy drinking among women to be more strongly associated with divorce than heavy drinking among men.”
I wondered if the same risk of divorce could be applied to married couples when their relative weights are considered. The research in this area seems to be sparse with most information being more opinion than anything else. I did find one study, however, that specifically looked at weight disparity.
This study examined conflict among heterosexual mixed-weight (i.e., one overweight and one healthy weight partner) and matched-weight couples, looking at 43 pairs. The study found the following:
Mixed-weight couples, specifically couples including overweight women and healthy weight men, reported greater conflict both generally and on a daily basis, compared to matched-weight couples; however, general conflict was reduced with greater perceived support from the partner. Mixed-weight couples who reported eating together more frequently also reported greater general conflict. These findings suggest that mixed-weight couples may experience more conflict than matched-weight couples, but perceived support from the partner can buffer this conflict. This research suggests that interpersonal dynamics associated with mixed-weight status might be important for romantic partners’ relational and personal health.
“However many advances we have made, body image issues abound, and women, unfortunately, are more vulnerable to the societal pressures,” said Ruthy Kaiser, senior therapist for the Council for Relationships (Philadelphia), suggesting that in a relationship, being overweight is harder for the woman and easier for the man.
If only the man was overweight, the couples reported the same degree of conflict as same-weight partners.
“It could be that women feel self-conscious about their weight as a result of cultural expectations, and men either agree that their partner should be thinner and make comments about it, or are sick of hearing their partners complain about their weight,” said the study’s lead author, Tricia Burke. She added, “It could also be that in relationships with greater conflict, women are eating more to cope with their emotions associated with that conflict.”
“The overweight partner might feel insecure, judged and angry, which could ultimately contribute to a power battle around food and eating in the relationship,” according to the study.
However, if the woman felt her partner was supportive of her looks or attempts at losing weight, there was much less conflict.
As for how to deal with this, Kaiser explained, “It’s a question of the way things are framed. Rather than saying, ‘I love you, I want to spend my life with you, I’m worried,’ she would say things to her husband like, ‘Look at that belly! How do you expect me to come near you with that?’”
“Often it is the way the concern is expressed,” Kaiser added, “and if each person genuinely feels okay about themselves, the difference doesn’t have to equal conflict.”
With the first study involving alcohol, the risk of divorce is approximately three times greater when the husband’s drinking is low and the wife’s drinking is heavy.
“There are several possible explanations for this,” said Torvik. “One of them is that women in general seem to be more strongly affected by heavy drinking than men are.”
Another factor is society, unfortunately, seems more accepting of heavy drinking among men than for women.
From what I have observed, other than where both people drink heavily, couples who drink at the same level, and those who are matched-weight seem to do the best in terms of staying together. This includes couples where both partners are obese.
Of course my view is that staying together as a couple and having behaviors that are good for our health is the best outcome. Being part of an unhealthy couple, whether due to excessive drinking or eating, is what we at CalorieLab are hoping to prevent.
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