As our marriage has entered it’s fifth year, I feel like my wife has begun to let herself go. For one thing, she has put on a lot of weight. I still love my wife, but I would like her to take into consideration that this isn’t the person I married. I don’t want to hurt her feelings. What is a good way to go about this?
Thank you for raising this issue—I know there are probably a lot of guys out there who are thinking the same thing and applauding you for bringing it up. I can almost hear the screams from the other end of the room—those being the ladies saying, "How dare he!" Quite honestly, this is a tough one. I’m going to assume that you, yourself, have maintained your weight more or less.
Any time a situation is posed through a medium such as this, there’s a disadvantage of not being able to get more details. So, I will have to raise the various possibilities.
There could be so many different reasons that your wife has put on weight:
1. Has she delivered a child(ren)? Unfortunately, a woman’s body does change after pregnancy.
2. When is the last time she had a medical check-up? There could be a biological explanation for the weight gain.
3. Is she staying at home and was she working beforehand? Many times, eating is done out of boredom or a sense that one is no longer worthy.
4. What has your relationship been like? It could be that the spark has gone out, there’s not enough time for the two of you and she doesn’t feel as valued or as pretty as she did when you were dating. It’s possible, and not necessarily being done consciously, that she is gaining weight to be noticed.
5. Is your marriage tense and/or weighted down by a lot of conflict? Again, some people don’t feel safe to express their feelings. Therefore, she could be eating out of frustration or anger.
6. Has she been trying to talk to you, and have you been able to listen?
As you note, appropriately, you don’t want to hurt her feelings. The issue of attractiveness is definitely a double standard. Men can get away with not worrying as much about how they look while women are expected to meet a higher criterion. A woman is likely to feel that comments on her weight indicate that she is not cared about as a person. Remember, most women are far more sensitive when it comes to self-esteem.
Presuming she is healthy, the best first step is to start out being positive and bringing back some of the old behaviors that couples make sure they do in the beginning of their relationship. Everyone says the "honeymoon phase" is the best time in a relationship. When you think about it, you can re-create a lot of the same aspects: compliment her, let her know you appreciate her, pay attention to her, thank her for the things she does. All of these suggestions are a way of letting her know she matters.
The reason to start with the positive is because anything negative has such a strong impact. Research has shown a 5:1 ratio between positive and negative. That means that if you do five positive things and then one negative, the negative will wipe out the five positives you did.
Make sure to offer gestures of affection. You don’t have to move mountains—women love small things like a kiss on the neck or a hug for no reason.
If you have children, make sure you are making time for each other. Remember you are a couple – not just a mommy and daddy.
Hopefully, these will start to make a difference. If not, you might try to do a "relationship check-up." This is an exercise where you check-in with each other and give each other a chance to talk about how you feel things are going, what needs you each have, how you think things could be better. Perhaps she will bring up her weight. If not, this might be a good opportunity for you to let her know that you are concerned because you’ve noticed she’s put on some weight and wondering if there’s something going on for her.
Maintain a gentle, caring approach – not a judgmental one. What’s most important is that you really understand one another and are working together—whether it's about her weight or any other matter.
Karen Sherman, Ph.D., (www.drkarensherman.com) is a practicing psychologist in relationships and lifestyle issues for over 20 years. She offers teleseminars and is co-author of Marriage Magic! Find It, Keep It, and Make it Last.