By Jen Kirsch
“I was sitting on my boyfriend’s lap at a bar a few months ago, and then this happened…”
Research reveals that your relationship could be tested when your waistline – or your guy’s – begins to grow (or even shrink). Learn to maintain a strong and loving union, scale be damned.
Sitting on my boyfriend’s lap at a bar in our hometown a few months ago, I was feeling a little sassy and started whispering sweet (and by sweet, I mean salaciously dirty) nothings into his ear. Playing along, he went to give my ass a flirtatious squeeze – a move he’s favoured since we started dating a year ago – but, instead, managed to grab a handful of my ample lower back. Yep, definitely not my butt.
Admittedly, by swapping yoga classes for cocktails with my man, I had put on some “happy weight” – those kilos people add when they’re blissfully head over heels – or what Channing Tatum calls “fappy”, for fat and happy. My guy said he adored my new curves, but they were making me self-conscious. And that love-handle grab didn’t help.
Insecurities are nothing new, but as Sarah Varney reveals in her book, XL Love: How the Obesity Crisis is Complicating America’s Love Life, new evidence suggests that when a partner gains or loses a considerable amount, the shift can push a rock-solid bond onto shaky ground. But not always: research also shows that lots of couples manage to remain tight in the face of weight change. Follow these strategies to stay hot and heavy with your partner – no matter what the scale says.
Love can send emotions – and dress sizes – soaring. Experts blame spousal concordance, the phenomenon in which partners gradually adopt the same rituals, for better or for worse. Have you submitted to his Sunday TV binge-watching routine? Joined his late-night McDonalds runs? You’ve fallen prey to spousal concordance. Melding your worlds creates intimacy, but it’s also one reason why happy couples tend to gain weight, according to a Health Psychology study. While adding a few extra kilos isn’t so bad, starting unhealthy habits is. “Asking your partner to encourage healthy habits and discourage destructive ones can help motivate you,” says Joburg-based clinical psychologist Liane Lurie.
Her advice is also critical for twosomes who are challenging themselves to lose in dangerous ways because they think their partner won’t be attracted to them otherwise. “Perhaps the words ‘For fatter, for thinner’ should be added to our modern-day marriage vows,” says Lurie. If you both need to get back on a healthier track, set small goals you can achieve together: commit to taking a 15-minute walk or run together every weekend morning, or swap takeaways (whether fast food or green juice) twice a week for a home-cooked dinner.
Own those curves
Unfair, but true: relationships can get extra tricky when one partner expands but the other doesn’t – especially if the gainer is the woman. A study published in Social Psychological and Personality Science found that husbands and wives are both more content when the wife’s BMI is lower than the husband’s – even if she’s still overweight. “A less-heavy wife could make a man believe that he’s done well on the mate market,” says study author Dr Benjamin Karney.
But what if you’re the buff one? Take heart: size isn’t the only predictor of relationship success; sex and communication count too. In fact, what’s far more important than your comparative proportions, is how you feel about your body.
Joburger Dawn Tlhapane had always been petite, but after dating her guy for a while, she started gaining weight, and went from a size 28 to 32. “I was worried he wouldn’t find me as sexy,” she says. A study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found that whether women were tiny or voluptuous, those with a poor body image were less sexually fulfilled, likely because they were too hung up on how they looked during the deed to actually enjoy it.
Since that’s no fun, it’s crucial to work on improving your confidence. “I eventually confronted my guy and, it turns out, he thought I looked beautiful with a few extra kilos,” says Dawn. “It actually brought us closer together.” “Every time your partner compliments you, thank them and repeat the compliment in your head, even if you don’t believe it,” suggests Dr Jessica O’Reilly, author of The New Sex Bible: The New Guide to Sexual Love. Then keep those good vibes going in the bedroom. “Everyone looks hot from behind and there’s no such thing as a bad close-up of boobs,” insists O’Reilly, so try reverse cowgirl: get on top, facing his feet, and roll your hips in a circular motion to get you both off.
Support his weight
Dudes don’t have it easier: they often care about their weight as much as we do. One guy we spoke to gained nine kilos while dating his now-ex. “I found myself wondering why anyone would want to have sex with me,” he says. It can be easy to pin your guy’s weight troubles on a pre-existing problem you have with him. So, what was once a peeve about his messiness can morph into: “He’s lazy. And it’s showing.”
If your guy is slimming down, you might interpret that the wrong way too: Is he getting ready to leave me? Not necessarily. Your guy may be going through the same thing. Capetonian Basha Taylor, 35, says dropping 64kg has refreshed her 14-year marriage. “I feel sexier, have more energy and want to be outdoors,” she says. Basha and her husband use this to their advantage, watching the sun set from the sand dunes every Sunday… “My husband spoils me now; I’ve never seen that side of him.” Rather than take his shape-shifting as a sign that you’re growing apart, think about what might have caused it. And be supportive – just as you’d want him to be if you put on some extra padding.
It’s a fact: exercising together can improve your bod and your bond. Research has shown that after participating in an exciting joint physical challenge or novel activity, many couples reported feeling happier in their relationships. And a recent survey revealed that 85 percent of duos who work out together said that it has improved their union, with one in five claiming that it “saved their relationship altogether”. Visiting a hiking trail versus a couples’ therapist? Far less pricey, that’s for sure.