How do I start a dialog with my wife about her weight?
March 15, 2008 10:01 PM   Subscribe

How do I open a dialog with my wife about her weight gain?

I need to find a way to constructively broach the topic of my wife's weight gain. I won't try to couch my concerns in anything but incredibly selfish terms. I don't want to have sex with her anymore because she's overweight and unattractive to me. She complains about her weight but does very little to change her eating habits or get more exercise and then complains that we're not intimate enough without ever seeming to put the two together.

The one time her weight came up in conversation and I hinted at something along the lines of "losing weight would be a good thing" she got extremely defensive and promised to show me just how much weight she could pack on. Which is self-defeating and would do nothing but push me further away.

I do love my wife and want to make this work but I am not willing to put my libido on the shelf permanently because she's unwilling to address the issue. I do not want to cheat on my wife but I have needs that aren't being met at home and there's only so many years I will be able to just put up with it.

How do I constructively tell/encourage my wife to get herself back into something more closely resembling a fitter and healthier lifestyle?

And yes, it goes beyond sex, I want to be able to go bicycling with her but she's so out of shape that I get frustrated having to wait and wait and wait and go incredibly slowly. And I also know that she'll be a happier person if she gets rid of the weight too. She just seems unwilling to actually accept responsibility for her weight gain which allows her to not do anything about it.

Please keep responses to constructive ways to address this issue. I have zero interest in being told I'm a shallow jerk because I can't see beyond her physical form to the woman inside her that I do love. I'm well aware that part of the problem here is me. But I live a fairly healthy lifestyle, eat well, get exercise, ride my bikes and workout not only because it makes me a healthier person but because a fit person is an attractive person (or so I believe).

And yes, I have read previous threads but found them to be not quite the information I am looking for.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (63 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
The one time her weight came up in conversation and I hinted at something along the lines of "losing weight would be a good thing" she got extremely defensive and promised to show me just how much weight she could pack on.

I'm going to assume you brought this up in a tactful way. Most women are incredibly insecure about their weight. However, her defensive, "I'll show you!" reaction hints that there might be other issues afoot in your marriage, of which the weight gain is a symptom, not a cause. I strongly suggest marriage counseling. Perhaps there are needs of hers that YOU are not meeting. Perhaps she is looking for an excuse to not have sex. There could be any number of things, and a counselor can help you with the real issues.

Also, is your wife crunched for time and energy? Is she working full-time while raising kids? That will exhaust anyone, and self-care is often the first to go. It's been proven that getting inadequate (less than 7 hours) of sleep a night can either cause weight gain or make it more difficult to take weight off. In a nutshell, if your wife is exhausted and stressed, she might not be able to lose weight or make it a priority.

What you can do: Pitch in around the house. Hire a babysitter so you two can get away from the kids. Hire a housecleaner, even if it's just occasionally, to relieve your wife of some of the burden of housework. Spend time with just the two of you - if you bike and work out a lot, cut back on that "me" time in favor of some "we" time.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 10:11 PM on March 15, 2008 [2 favorites]

It sounds like your wife is not going to be open to discussing this no matter how delicately you approach the topic. Could you take up some activity with your wife that you would do very regularly? Say, like joining a gym together, or going cycling? Yes, she will be slow at first but over time she will get faster. Perhaps also you could take on more of the grocery shopping and cooking and so arrange to not have junk food in the house or high-calorie, large meals.

Also, look at the factors that are making your wife overweight. Is she overworked and without time or energy to exercise? A bored housewife with not enough to occupy her mind and time? Stressed out? Bothered by serious emotional issues? In poor health? If you addressed these and tried to help her resolve the issues without reference to her weight, you might find that the weight problem resolving itself.
posted by orange swan at 10:20 PM on March 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

Rosie M. Banks and orange swan offer good advice. I'd like to add the following - take the house work off your wife's hands, and hire a personal trainer for her. The success of this measure will depend on how tactfully you present this to your wife, though.

A trainer who is positive, enthusiastic and will offer your wife some respite from the daily stresses. Obviously I do not know your budgetary situation Anonymous, but I would suggest twice a week of training weekly, for a couple of months.
posted by seawallrunner at 10:30 PM on March 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

Savage Love dealt with this recently

And here's the follow up column you must read as well

And here's some of the other reader responses

I hope that's helpful. My SO and I have promised to be brutally honest if either of us lets ourselves go, not because we're shallow but because we want to stay fit, healthy and active, and it's easy for us to become slothful and lazy without realising it. So long as you're committed to doing something about it rather than ditching her without trying to fix things, I don't think you're being shallow.

If she complains about her weight herself you could maybe use that angle to encourage her to exercise, a la "if your weight's bothering you, why not start running/do some yoga/go cycling". Do you do any of the cooking? Perhaps you can plan some healthier meals.

Good luck.
posted by mooza at 10:32 PM on March 15, 2008 [2 favorites]

The Savage Love advice is great, I highly recommend it (skip to the last bit of the third link if you're pressed for time).

The main thing I got out of it is that the more you can helpful you can be to your wife in regards to time and support, the better. Just issuing an ultimatum or having "a talk" isn't sufficient, there are physical and mental factors keeping her in the shape she's in.

Aside from weight loss, alleviating those stresses can only help the relationship as a whole.
posted by ®@ at 10:53 PM on March 15, 2008

A major purpose for couples therapy is to help couples talk about topics that they're not able to talk about on their own. If both of you are unhappy with parts of your relationship (her with your sex life, you with her weight), start therapy.

This is one of those very few times when it's actually appropriate to use "If you love me (and our relationship), you'll do this," this being therapy.

Good luck.
posted by ochenk at 10:59 PM on March 15, 2008

There is a tremendous amount of "I want" in your question. The whole "my fat wife is going to force me to cheat on her" doesn't reek of a stable marriage.

When you tell her what you want she does the opposite. Is it possible that she's using her weight to get a away from you? I'm not being sarcastic; I'm absolutely serious. What does she get out of being heavier? It sounds as though she gets some distance from you.
posted by 26.2 at 11:23 PM on March 15, 2008 [10 favorites]

posted by schnee at 11:53 PM on March 15, 2008

And yes, it goes beyond sex, I want to be able to go bicycling with her but she's so out of shape that I get frustrated having to wait and wait and wait and go incredibly slowly.

Well, hang on a second. This isn't magic - if you want her to lose weight, she needs to exercise. Going cycling together is one of the ways she can lose weight in a constructive, non-judgmental way: she's exercising AND spending time with you. Your side of the deal if she agrees to go cycling with you is to put up with her not being at the same skill level. Getting frustrated with her for not immediately getting better is not encouraging, it's actively discouraging (and I bet that's why she doesn't like cycling with you!).

Basically, I'm wondering whether when she does/did take small steps to improve, you didn't just expect more of her rather than praising and encouraging her for what she was already doing. People do need positive feedback to move forward.

Also, n-thing therapy; I suspect there's more at root there than your mutual issues with weight.
posted by bettafish at 12:03 AM on March 16, 2008 [16 favorites]

yeah, it sounds like there are a lot of things going on. for one thing, realizing you need to lose weight means acknowledging that you lost control of it. that may be what's hard for her to accept--she may be totally wishing she was a size 10, but she may not be able to admit she's let herself slide, or that she is no longer attractive to you. that's a terrifying thing for a woman to admit. it sets up this awful situation of "if i don't reach X weight, my husband will stop loving me." which puts her on the road to an eating disorder (or a divorce).

so, assuming you are making sure she has time to exercise and are contributing healthy foods to the dinner table, couples counseling may be the best way to broach it.

and if her weight is holding her back from things you enjoy, you should go ahead and do them anyway, with people who are able to do them. maybe just feeling left out will inspire her, too. it's great that you want to include her, but i think it's fair to say, "i really want to do these challenging rides every couple of weeks, but i don't want you to feel bad if you have to stop, so i'm going to ride with this cycling group instead." even if it doesn't inspire her to get in shape, at least you're having some fun and have one less thing to feel resentful about.

finally, if none of those things are palatable, how about setting a challenge? say, "let's do [X ambitious three-day bike trip in hawaii followed by a lovely four-day vacation] this time next year. you want to start training for it?"
posted by thinkingwoman at 12:14 AM on March 16, 2008

"She... then complains that we're not intimate enough" "I do not want to cheat on my wife but I have needs that aren't being met at home..."

Maybe I'm not correctly parsing this, so forgive me if I'm totally off the mark, but it very much sounds like "She... wants more sex from me" "I... want some sex". If you aren't interested in getting your needs met at home, I'm not sure how you've got a leg to stand on as far as complaining about those needs being met.

In any case, if the tone of your post is at all similar in any way to how you've approached the subject with her, I'm not surprised you're going nowhere with it. You seem to be putting a massive amount of the blame on her and very little on the problem you have dealing with her body issues. Don't get me wrong, I think it's great that you want to be supportive of her weight loss -- and I think you should look at ways of doing a better job of that, because your cycling comment sure makes it sound like you aren't actually being supporive so much as demanding -- but I also think the fact that you're unloading a bunch of your body image baggage on the woman you married is a massively assholish thing to do. I honestly think you need to untangle those two issues, because the problem you have is your own and it reads like you've left it totally unexamined.
posted by majick at 12:30 AM on March 16, 2008 [4 favorites]

It's unfair to assume that it's a fact that he's "unloading a bunch of your body image baggage" being "unloading a bunch of your body image baggage" and that it's his problem, unexamined. There's no call for that.

Back to the original post -- if you're not going to go to counseling, and I understand where you'll be reluctant to suggest that (if previous conversations have been that bad, "I want to go to counseling" may well come off as "as a prelude to divorce over your weight...") I would say this, from experience:
- this is going to take more than one conversation
- the best approach is likely to still go badly wrong
- this is not going to be a straight line to a solution

What I would suggest is forsaking mefi in favor of seeing a marriage counselor by yourself, at least initially, where you can talk about your relationship issues and get some continuing, active, professional support in trying to support your marriage, which you're obviously interested in salvaging. You might want to do this without disclosing it, but it's probably better to be upfront about wanting to talk through some issues with someone removed from the situation (as you clearly are).

Finding someone will suck -- finding a counselor you work well with will take some doing and you should be prepared for that -- but it's a lot better than a long, resentful slide into further resentment, strife, and eventual break-up.

And if you are, indeed, the jerk previous repliers have assumed, that'll come out there as well.
posted by dmz at 2:46 AM on March 16, 2008

Based on your wife's comment about packing on the pounds to show you, I suspect your wife is overeating to cope with her frustrations and as a way to express her anger. What things in her life could she be frustrated about? What could she be so angry about that she is willing to sacrifice her health, body and marriage in order to express herself? Being her husband, I am sure you have a good idea. If you don't, then I bet that's part of the problem right there. Help your wife with her life, not her weight, and you will succeed.
posted by milarepa at 3:51 AM on March 16, 2008 [2 favorites]

I gained weight during a marriage. Like anonymous's wife, there was a point when I did it consciously. My feeling at the time was that if I was fat, then I could tell myself he was rejecting me (in bed, in conversation, in general) because I was fat. If I was fit, then he was rejecting me because I was me.

If anonymous's wife is anything like me, then her weight is a symptom, not the real problem. And anonymous, if your wife has an underlying problem, then what you need to do is support her in figuring out what that problem is and treating it.
posted by headnsouth at 3:54 AM on March 16, 2008 [11 favorites]

I appreciate the fix you're in, having been on both sides of this problem, but there are no magic words that will do what you are asking for. Tact and "you're too fat to fuck" are not going to mix. You can dress it up how you like but she will know what you mean. In fact, she probably already knows how you feel. When weight spirals out of control self-loathing follows.

If you love her, ask yourself what will help, then ask her, not the Hive Mind.
posted by RussHy at 4:12 AM on March 16, 2008 [2 favorites]

*Hi honey. Why are you so unhappy?* *Is there something in your childhood that made you sad?* *Can we heal this together?* *Can we search the universe to find you some relief for what pains you?* *And do you know how utterly deeply I love you?*
posted by watercarrier at 4:38 AM on March 16, 2008

How do I open a dialog with my wife about her weight gain?

How do you normally talk about your problems (as in shared problems)? Could you ask her, in a loving way, not about the weight, but an issue you have, that you need help with? X, I'm having a problem in our marriage, but I fear any discussion of it will result in tears and anger, do you have any ideas how I should approach this? Of course, she may then demand to know what it is, and fret if you don't tell her, so only you know if this will work.

Could you perhaps take over the nutritional roles in your household? Could you say, honey, I want to be really healthy, and sometimes we eat junk food or drink stuff with too many calories to be our wellest. Would you mind if I took over the shopping, menu planning and cooking? (Depending on your relationship, that could really work, but probably won't. I believe people need to be in charge of their own health.) In this house, I'm in charge of nutrition, and he's in charge of exercise.

My brother and his wife have chosen to both go to Weight Watchers. She is very close to goal weight, but he is, I'd guess, close to obese. They learn tips together, choose food together, and he's lost 6 kilos already.

I wonder if you would be more comfortable if she did it without your help? I think, based on the small amount of information above that she's not likely to, at this point. She hasn't reached a point in her life where she's saying, enough is enough. I can't bear to be this big. If that's the case, some of the things you need to consider are: counselling and/or explicitly telling her as kindly as you can that her increased size is affecting your romantic relationship. I suspect this will be a very difficult time, but what do you have to lose? Right now, you have an overweight wife who is unhappy because you aren't having sex, and of course, you're unhappy because you're not having sex. If you don't take any action, one day you will get sick of this, and leave. If you do talk to her, and she gets angry, but does nothing, you will know you've at least tried.

Lastly, in the interests of your wife's point of view, which she hasn't told you, maybe because you haven't asked, sometimes losing weight is really quite difficult. For me, shifting the first twenty kilos was quite painful. Just to walk around the block resulted in a level of pain that I don't experience after 15 kilometres now. This is really a deterrant, and I was lucky enough to be walking with someone who was prepared to walk slowly with me, and keep telling me that I was great for trying so hard.

Secondly, shifting the next 20 kilos is proving difficult, not because the exercise is painful, I'm exercising about 6 out of 7 days, but because the weight is just being bloody-minded. I'm sticking to a calorie limit, I'm eating the right foods, seriously. And I've hit a long plateau, and it's very demotivating. If I had someone telling me that he thought I was trying, I'd be very upset.

So I suggest being compassionate with your wife. She probably hates being fat, may not have the education to successfully lose weight, will almost certainly find the necessary exercise painful and unrewarding, and it won't happen overnight. Are you prepared to help her through this, because if that seems like too much trouble, then maybe you need to rethink your position.
posted by b33j at 4:49 AM on March 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

Oh and finally, I suggest if you do broach it with her, that you do it in the most loving and compassionate way that you can, and when she reacts negatively, that you continue to be loving and compassionate, no matter, how irrational, angry, hurt, manipulative, sulky, whatever she gets. Keep telling her that you're sorry she feels bad (if that's what she says), that you love her (if you do), that you want the best for both of you and the best for your marriage, that you believe in her (if you do), and so on. Do not shout, bite back, accept any insults or arguments off topic. Be calm. Soothe her. Hug her. Kiss her forehead or her cheek. If she hurts something at you like " You never liked me", tell her "I love you". If she says "I'm not attractive to you", say "let's get healthier together."

Hopefully, this will mean she feels reassured even though you've dropped the F-bomb.
posted by b33j at 5:05 AM on March 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

I agree that counseling might be in order if she's putting on the weight as a revenge maneuver. However, if she's just let herself go lately, here's how my husband got me into biking. It might work with your wife.

First off, we got me a really nice bike. I went and picked it out by myself. Riding a multi-speed hybrid bike was so much better than pedaling along on a Huffy. Then we went riding. It sounds simple, but he bikes regularly and is pretty fast, while I was barely chugging along. But he never got impatient and never rolled his eyes. Instead he let me ride in front of him and set the pace (which would cure the "having to stop and wait" thing). I knew he would rather go faster, but at the end of the ride he just said, "You did great. Thanks for going out with me!" It was such a positive experience that we went out again and again for longer and longer rides. By the end of the summer I probably still wasn't going as fast or as far as he'd like, but we could ride out to Miller Park to see baseball games or ride the city trails to go visit friends. He turned biking into a fun activity we do together instead of work.

Make it a positive experience for her. Get a baby-sitter, pack a picnic lunch, and make biking fun and romantic instead of work.

Oh, and I really hope the tone you used here is just because you wanted to vent to us and is never the way you'd speak to your wife about this. If my husband spoke to me like that I can guarantee I'd pick up on it and be more offended and stubborn about exercise.
posted by christinetheslp at 5:06 AM on March 16, 2008 [8 favorites]

She knows how you feel and those pounds are there to spite you.

You do realize that whether it's weight, or aging, or, God forbid, some accident, people's bodies do change. No one looks great forever. Do you love the woman or do you just want a hard body in bed?

If the latter, please let her know so she can plan for the eventual divorce and find someone who will love her for herself. If the former, go get counseling and find out what the fat is protecting her from.

(I lost 35 pounds. I put twenty back on, I suspect because I was noticing men staring at my body afterwards. Thankfully my husband actually likes me somewhat zaftig so that's not an issue. I don't like being overweight but apparently I feel exposed without the extra poundage.)
posted by konolia at 5:12 AM on March 16, 2008 [2 favorites]

It's okay for you not to be attracted to your wife. But there's no way for you to tell her that without hurting her feelings. So accept up front that she's going to be upset. She's going to cry. She's probably going to call you names. But once you've gotten the horrible conversation over with, at least you both know where you stand. If she still refuses to lose weight, then you'll have a decision to make. But at least then if the marriage doesn't last, you'll know that you were honest with her.

Good luck to you.
posted by happyturtle at 5:28 AM on March 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

Intimacy isn't just sex to women, she might be missing you.
To help change eating habits, a once a week healthy cooking class (or perhaps simply exotic cooking, such as Korean or Thai food) would be a thing you can do together that changes what is set on the table all other nights of the week.
As others have suggested, make the bike-rides romantic, bike to great views, cute museums, picknick hills and so on.
posted by dabitch at 5:33 AM on March 16, 2008

I was in an unhappy marriage that contributed to a 30-pound weight gain. After I got divorced, I dropped 15 within a month without even trying.

Then I had a boyfriend who asked me to lose the rest of the weight. I loved him, and I started working out. I got fit. Then he told me he would like my nose would look better if it was thinner, too. I started gaining weight again.

Stop blaming her and look at your own beliefs, attitudes, and feelings that are contributing to your unhappiness. You're looking at the problem as if it is caused by her, it's all about her, and that you are somehow being victimized by her. What about YOU is contributing to the problem? After all, you only have control over yourself, not her.

She probably DOES want to lose weight and feel more comfortable in her own skin, but the issues go MUCH deeper than your statement that she just doesn't want to take responsibility for her weight gain. What you see on the outside is a symptom of what's going on inside of her.

From my own experience, this is a symptom of a deeper problem. It might not be about the relationship, but I would expect that she unconsciously picks up your resentment which creates a feedback loop exacerbating her weight gain.

Start fixing your own attitudes and beliefs, let go of your resentment, and just love her for who she is. After you let go of the resentment and just immerse yourself in love, you'll be surprised at how that creates even more love in your life.
posted by kat at 5:56 AM on March 16, 2008 [9 favorites]

It sounds to me like you're laboring under the following faulty reasoning:

1) My wife has gained weight
2) I don't see her making any effort to lose it, this must be because she doesn't care about being attractive to me anymore
3) If I withhold affection for long enough, maybe she'll become sufficiently unhappy with the status quo to do something about it
4) Once I've driven her into losing weight, we'll both be happier.

If you're going to get through this, you need to learn to trust her again. Here is an alternative reasoning sequence:

1) My wife has gained weight
2) I know that she loves me and wants to be attractive to me, so this must mean that she's just not able to do what it takes to lose the weight right now
3) I need to figure out how to support her better if I want her to have the strength to go through the process of getting fit again

I'm not going to judge you for being thick-skinned, that's just the way you are and it certainly has its advantages, but don't assume that everyone else is like you. It's very tempting to attribute other people's failings to selfishness when you've never had the experience of not being able to get anything done because you feel like crap about yourself.

I don't want to have sex with her anymore because she's overweight and unattractive to me.

I'm willing to bet that the loss of attraction is more to do with your resentment over her weight gain than it is to do with her actual appearance. Forgive this (internally!) and I think you'll find that you do still want to have sex with the woman you love.
posted by tomcooke at 6:18 AM on March 16, 2008 [18 favorites]

Hey, Mr. Lucinda. Is that you hiding under that anonymous tag?

Yeah, I gained weight to be spiteful. At one point I had a "goal" to hit 200 pounds just to piss him off. He didn't care about me (I had to drag "I love you" out of him, and even when I was on the verge of tears because he wouldn't say it he'd still make jokes about it), why should I care about him?

Eventually I realized the stupidity of this train of thought, and after an argument where he told me he didn't tell me I was pretty anymore because I was overweight, I joined Weight Watchers.

It's been 11 weeks. I have lost six pounds. Glorious rapture! I might as well have saved myself the money, with the results I've been getting, both on the scale and from him.

Encourage her. BE SUPPORTIVE. Congratulate her on every single thing she does to try and lose weight. TELL HER YOU LOVE HER. TELL HER SHE'S ATTRACTIVE. (EVEN IF YOU FEEL LIKE YOU'RE LYING - FIND *SOMETHING* YOU CAN COMPLIMENT HER ON) Don't make her feel like she has to get down to X weight before you will deem her worthy of being attractive again. She may decide it's not worth it.

(and yes, I'm in therapy about this. this message just kinda hit a chord.)
posted by Lucinda at 7:03 AM on March 16, 2008 [9 favorites]

Looks like someone has brought it up in MetaTalk, after all.
posted by grouse at 7:23 AM on March 16, 2008

Mod note: Some comments removed. Anything straying from civilly answering the question should go to that Metatalk link grouse just pointed out.
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:53 AM on March 16, 2008

I'm sure someone has said this, but if you ever bring it up to her, she will never forget it. It will always be in the back of her mind, and she will never know if you're being truthful about compliments. Mine said it almost five years ago, and though we've moved past it, and it was a deeper issue, it doesn't change the fact that he said it.

Please just be aware of the impact that an "open dialogue about my wife's weight gain" will truly hurt her in the long run.
posted by santojulieta at 7:57 AM on March 16, 2008

Sorry, hurt her *emotionally* in the long run.

That sounded snarky, and it shouldn't've.
posted by santojulieta at 8:00 AM on March 16, 2008

Having experienced this situation (my wife was 125 lbs. when we married, 190 lbs. within five years and for the duration of our 18 year marriage), it becomes a matter of whether it is something your wife wants to do, rather than something you want her to do.

Much as an alcoholic trying to kick the booze, or a smoker putting down the cigs, in order to truly succeed at weight loss and stabilization, it must be something your wife wants. Your dialog with her should begin with that precept.

In the case of my wife, on more than one occasion, she would lose as much as 20-25 pounds but would become disinterested in the process, or sidetracked by some other life crisis. Please be sympathetic with your wife. If she chooses to tackle her weight, it may be the most difficult change she ever makes in her life. She needs positive encouragement.
posted by netbros at 8:17 AM on March 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

had to come back with one more thought...maybe she is letting herself get fat because she senses your disgust. you think she's gross, so she thinks she's gross, nobody feels sexy anymore, so she assuages her need for sensation and satisfaction with rich foods. she needs intimacy, too. not just sex, though.

one thing i think many men don't realize is that, especially in long relationships when you've gotten comfortable with each other, the only time they touch their wives is when they want sex. since women often (although not always) have lower libidos or more barriers to pleasure than men, physical affection starts to create this negative feedback loop ("he's rubbing my shoulders, therefore he wants sex, therefore i must either put up with unwanted sex or disappoint him by rejecting him, i wish he just wouldn't touch me so we can avoid this conflict, and/or i wish i was more in the mood to have sex so i wouldn't have this conflict, i hate my body for leading me to this conflict, i'm sad and want some satisfaction, pass the cake.")

so break that loop. try touching your wife more, not as a come-on, but just to acknowledge her body. just touch her when you pass her in the house, or give her hand a squeeze in the car, or put your arm around her when you watch tv, or whatever. help her get back in touch with that sensual side...not just her libido, but the way her body feels and moves through space. she may be more motivated to lose weight when you show her that you appreciate her physical being for more than its role in your bed.
posted by thinkingwoman at 8:27 AM on March 16, 2008 [24 favorites]

I'd suggest making a list of the things that you love, respect, enjoy and miss about your wife. Think about it carefully and actually jot it all down - take all the time you need to clear your mind of the hostility you feel towards her because she's gained some weight. Include everything you can think of, paying close attention to how your life would be that much sadder, more dull and wanting without all of things in it. All of those things that only your wife has ever and perhaps could ever bring to your life.

Now, after you've made that list, write a list of things that scare the hell out of you. Maybe divorce, maybe illness, maybe being alone, maybe losing your wife to someone else, just jot them all down. Place your lists next to one another and just mull them over for a while. Really sit with all that information. Oh, and it's possible that things like, "A sexless marriage" or "my wife gets really, really, REALLY fat" make the list. That's okay. It's your list and you should put on it whatever you want, provided it's the absolute truth.

Now, make a date with your wife. Something simple, perhaps - a half hour walk around the neighborhood. Ask your wife how her day has been and listen to her when she speaks. Just keep your lists in the back of your mind while you look at your wife's face and listen to her as she speaks. Just leave it there like a scenic backdrop to your walk. Set aside half an hour, say, three or four days a week to do this for a few weeks in a row.

Then, perhaps after a couple of weeks, during one of your walks together, suggest to your wife that you'd like to start eating healthier. Tell her you've looked around on-line or in the bookstore and gotten some ideas about eating healthier and living better that you'd like to try. If she suspects that this is a ploy to get her to stop being so fat, tell her the truth - you've given it some thought, you realize that this is a health and well-being issue, and that you'd like to work toward a healthier lifestyle overall as a team. Admit that, yes, at times your take on it was a little selfish, but you've thought about it alot recently and you've realized that a healthy, long life with her is the most important thing to you. (At this point, your lists might pop into your mind - you don't have to mention those to her; or, maybe you might, up to you.) Suggest that maybe the two of you could go grocery shopping together and pick out healthier foods with, say, less sugar, less corn-syrup, less simple carbs, less fat and more whole grains, more lean protein, more fresh fruits and vegetables.

Then suggest that perhaps after your morning walk on the following Saturday morning, you might clean the kitchen out of all junk food, give it a good scrub from top to bottom, and that perhaps afterward you could map out together a week's worth of healthier dinners that the two of you could cook together. Perhaps then you might suggest that, at the end of the week of healthy dinners at home, you could meet for a nice dinner out somewhere so that neither of you have to cook that night. If your wife is resistant to any or all of the above, be patient and give it some time. Remind yourself in these moments of the times that someone was patient and supportive with you and how good it made you feel. Persist with the half hour walks and hold off on the conversations about health for a while. In the meantime, start dumping out one item of junk food in the kitchen at a time and replacing it with a healthier alternative. If, after you've given it a couple of months and your wife is still resistant, then couple's therapy should be your top priority. Ask people in your life that you trust for the name of a good couple's counselor - you'll probably be surprised how many people have on occasion gone to couple's therapy to reinvigorate their marriages.

You might also buy a calendar and mark off the days that you've walked for half an hour together. After two or three weeks, you might up that walk to an hour. After a month, you might suggest a half hour bike ride. Just a simple half-hour ride together, after which, if you'd still like a little time to yourself, you go for an hour ride by yourself. During that hour ride, think about your lists.

That's my best suggestion for how to start a dialog with your wife about living a healthier, happier life together. There's one caveat - if, when you sit down to think about what you love about your wife and why you'd like to stay married to her, you're stumped, then I'd say you need to think about whether or not this is the marriage you want to be in. Good luck.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 8:28 AM on March 16, 2008 [4 favorites]

It is indeed difficult, but not impossible, to keep your romantic feelings for a partner who has gained weight.

But, I think you are adding to the problem by contributing to the vicious cycle you are in, as noted by this statement:

And yes, it goes beyond sex, I want to be able to go bicycling with her but she's so out of shape that I get frustrated having to wait and wait and wait and go incredibly slowly.

Rather than be grateful she is doing something, you complain that it's not enough. She sees your frustration and is less inclined to go along next time. She also sees your rejection and is less inclined to want to do anything about her weight.

To be clear, her weight gain is her responsibility. But you have to break the vicious cycle. It takes two to keep the cycle going. It only takes one to break it. Be the one.

Go to a counselor. Don't take her, but go for you. A good counselor will help you adapt your attitude and give some impartial input into some simple actions on your part that will, first of all, help you to be happier, and just may result in her responding to you in a positive way.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 8:45 AM on March 16, 2008

There are a lot of variables here. How much weight has she gained, over what period of time, on what general size body/frame? I mean, there's a big difference between a little middle-age spread and morbid obesity -- and having a better sense of that would undoubtedly help us give better advice about how you can broach the subject.

One thing you might want to consider -- do your own eating habits influence your wife? You say you "eat well," but bear in mind that a male who works out, rides bikes, etc. regularly can pack away a LOT more calories than a female of the same age, especially one who's significantly less active. And a lot of "together" time in relationships revolves around meals. If the eating schedule, food types, portion sizes are dictated primarily by your nutritional needs, then your wife either "keeps up" with you by ingesting way more calories than her system requires -- or she has to eat teeny (by comparison) portions and feel horribly deprived. Imagine how you'd feel if you were really hungry and had to settle for a sliver of pizza while the person sitting next to you had three massive slices.

I'm not saying that's what you're doing -- maybe you eat nothing but a grilled chicken breast and salad every night, but if you do allow yourself some dietary latitude and some treats or big portions in front of the wife, or if you go to a lot of restaurants (almost all of which load on the fat, etc. compared to home meals) together, maybe you can curtail some of that to decrease the disparity. Have your big meal at midday at work or graze on healthy snacks when you're not around the house?
posted by FelliniBlank at 8:59 AM on March 16, 2008

Response by poster: Couple of things:

If you resolve to start eating healthier with your wife, and going to the gym with your wife, it will go a lot easier. You need to cut out junk food and stuff. Learn to cook healthy and make her meals. This is really important. You can't not go to the gym and eat chips and pizza in front of her and then expect her to eat broccoli instead. If she's already demotivated, that's going to make things worse.

Also, when you do bring up the issue, "I don't want to have sex because you're so goddamn fat" is not the greatest motivator. Tell her you want to be in this marriage for the duration. You want to be cycling with her when you're both 80, you don't want to be worrying about her because she's in the hospital for diabetes problems again--if she even makes it that long. Of course, if you're not interested in this marriage for the duration than that's a totally different issue.
posted by Anonymous at 9:00 AM on March 16, 2008

The only way (IMO) to deal with this is to start working out together.

My wife and I started this a few years ago, and it helps. This is a natural, honest way to talk about your bodies, and t has the benefit of having to hang out together, and experience stuff.

I am head over heels still in love with my wife, though neither of us looks all that great anymore. But working out at a gym is a shared activity and regardless as to how slow, weak, etc., you will get better.

remember, you guys will be having to take care of each other down the line.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 9:07 AM on March 16, 2008

My husband, a marathon runner, told me that he wants me to live a long time because he loves me. That's pretty sweet, and a good motivation to get regular exercise.

Just focusing on the bike ride aspect of your question: my husband and I go on bike rides together sometimes. My husband's in great shape, and more athletic than I am. So he has to pull the trailer with the kids. It slows him down and means we both get a good workout. It doesn't sound like you have kids, but you're carrying the panniers on your bike, right? And you've got a healthy picnic lunch in there for you guys to share?

Do you and your wife both have good-quality bikes? It was annoying when I was out on my antique Raleigh three-speed and my husband zipped along on his racing bike. Now I've got a decent bike myself, and that's helped greatly.

If you guys are done with a ride but you still have energy to burn, she can head home while you ride for a few more miles. Think of your ride together as your time with your wife, and have a separate time when you go out for your own ride.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:26 AM on March 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

People have suggested gyms because the two of you could work out together without you having to wait for her. There's also swimming, and many other sports I'm sure.
posted by stereo at 9:31 AM on March 16, 2008

What's in it for her if she makes the effort to lose weight? Besides your possibly being attracted to her again.

It sounds flip, but she genuinely might not see any benefit to getting in shape, or she might think that the only benefits are aesthetic and won't come until she loses 50 pounds. Dieting and exercise are really hard work, really easy habits to break, and may not pay off for several weeks or months, whereas eating delicious cake always pays off right now.

Frame the weight loss discussion from how it will make her feel better - if she hits the gym, she will be stronger, she will have more energy, she will relieve stress, she will actually notice herself improving. If she eats more vegetables and protein, and less sugar and junk, her mood and energy levels can improve and her cravings can drop. Losing weight can often seem like an unattainable goal in which everything is against you, especially for someone who's very overweight and hasn't exercised in a long time. But working out and eating right can provide benefits long before you notice your pants getting looser.

So encourage (not demand) her to work towards health-related goals rather than just being thinner. Better to be with a slightly-overweight partner who's proud of the four miles they just ran, than a slender partner who eats nothing but carrots and resents every minute of it.
posted by Metroid Baby at 10:01 AM on March 16, 2008

I know that you didn't want any sermonizing about how shallow you're being, but I can't help but wonder what if something other than weight gain happened to your wife. Suppose the two of you were in a serious car accident, and she was paralyzed from the chest down? Would you find affection elsewhere because she not only didn't appeal to you anymore, but she couldn't reciprocate your affection in that way?

There's no way to broach the topic of her weight without hurting her feelings, so why not start slowly - suggest a nice romantic walk after dinner? It will take her time to build up her wind and endurance, but it's an aerobic exercise the two of you can do together while talking and sharing some quality time. After a few months of nightly walks, perhaps her biking speed will be up to your preference.
posted by Oriole Adams at 10:17 AM on March 16, 2008

FWIW, two cents from a woman who has struggled with weight and appeareance and self-image issues all her life:

I read that "Savage" column- and it took me an hour to pick my jaw up off the floor. Has he ever MET a woman?

posted by GuffProof at 11:37 AM on March 16, 2008

Let's see:
How do I open a dialog with my husband about his hair loss?

I need to find a way to constructively broach the topic of my husband's hair loss. I won't try to couch my concerns in anything but incredibly selfish terms. I don't want to have sex with him anymore because he's bald and unattractive to me.
Attraction is attraction, it either is there or it isn't. Anonymous, don't let these people try to shame you into finding attractive someone who isn't anymore, not to you at least. Attraction is not politically correct. It is very human, though, unlike political correctness, that most artificial and militarily enforced of attitudes.

This is a fact, sad I suppose, but it's the reality. Whether your wife got fat because she's hostile to your distaste of overweight women, or she did it because she simply likes chocolate, what you feel down there is what you feel down there.

As I said, maybe she won't like you anymore when you lose your hair.
posted by matteo at 11:43 AM on March 16, 2008

I read that "Savage" column- and it took me an hour to pick my jaw up off the floor. Has he ever MET a woman?

Seriously. Whatever you do....DON'T follow that particular advice!
posted by The Light Fantastic at 11:52 AM on March 16, 2008

As a woman who has battled with weight issues in a relationship, I found this article extremely on-target.
posted by nikksioux at 12:06 PM on March 16, 2008

If she's not ready to lose weight, she's not going to. You can't force that readiness, no matter how much you kick and scream and withhold sex. TryTheTilapia's advice is great because it takes into account the significant amount of time it will require for someone facing a 180° lifestyle change to become ready. She's not going to drop 100 pounds overnight. You say that there's "only so many years [you] will just be able to put up with it". If that's true, you had better learn to deal with it if you want to stay with her, because it might take that amount of time or longer for her to get ready to drop the weight. Are you going to be there for her or are you going to break those marriage vows because it's easier on your libido?
posted by sian at 12:16 PM on March 16, 2008

nikksioux: That article strikes me as being exactly as on target as an article claiming that it's a wife's fault if her husband cheats on her because, of course, he isn't getting what he needs inside the relationship. That is to say, there is a (very) small element of sorta truthiness to both statements but when it comes down to it we are responsible for our own actions.

OP: There is nothing wrong with you losing the physical attraction you feel for someone if they change a great deal. What you can control is how you deal with your wife. You need to phrase this in a supporting way; instead of saying she needs to lose weight, offer to join a gym with her. Both of you could go workout together and make it a marriage activity. Start eating healthy yourself and cook healthy meals for your wife. Encourage her to cook healthy as well.

It seems to me that the only big problem arises if she absolutely refuses to work out with you, exercise, or cook and eat in a more healthy fashion. Suggest couples therapy if that happens.

If she refuses that option too then you have a decision to make that we can't help you with. But whatever happens, do not be ashamed of your own feelings; there's nothing wrong with what you're going through and people who are trying to make you feel bad are likely just insecure themselves.
posted by Justinian at 12:21 PM on March 16, 2008

Are you going to be there for her or are you going to break those marriage vows because it's easier on your libido?

This isn't fair to the OP. It is implicit in marriage vows that we will work to stay healthy and not radically change ourselves after marriage.
posted by Justinian at 12:22 PM on March 16, 2008

It is implicit in marriage vows that we will work to stay healthy and not radically change ourselves after marriage.

True, but it's also implicit in marriage vows that you'll stick with your partner through tough times. You don't think the wife is unaware of her weight?

Point is, he has a responsibility to her that he needs to either nuture or sever. Expecting to call her out on it based on HURF DURF and have everything be a-ok is unfeasible.
posted by sian at 12:29 PM on March 16, 2008

What about going out dancing or taking dancing lessons together? It's a great workout, but is an activity that might seem less about your wife's weight issues and more about being intimate on both physical and emotional levels with your spouse. As someone who's struggled with weight myself, I think I would be more responsive to something like that or, as suggested above, taking walks together.
posted by katemcd at 12:43 PM on March 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

Are you kidding justinian? We will not radically change ourselves after marriage? If you don't radically change after the massive life shift that is marriage, let alone the massive life shift that is parenthood, there's something very very wrong with you.

I'm curious why everyone, including the anonymous poster, is so sure that this woman is now operating at something substantially higher than her body's setpoint. She's older than when she married, she's presumably had children. Her body chemistry has changed. Her lifestyle has changed. All the dieting and physical training in the world (good old 2% success rate diet-and-exercise) isn't going to change much of anything if this is the weight that her body wants to be. She'll lose some, she'll regain it all and probably more and in the end, her health will suffer more than if she were eating well and exercising without making overt efforts at weight loss. This is clinically proven.

So the question to me is, do you want a thinner wife, or do you want a healthy wife? The two are not necessarily equivalent or even compatible ideas, and if thinner is really your goal, maybe you need to reconsider why you're married to this woman overall.
posted by Dreama at 12:45 PM on March 16, 2008

Justinian, I am a woman, who has been in a similar situation. I am saying (for me at least, and for a lot of women) that what this rabbi guy is saying is that a husband loving or not loving his wife based on her weight is unfair, and in a lot of cases just knowing that your partner finds you "disgusting" or "unattractive" drives you to gain more weight out of despair. No he shouldn't be ashamed of his "feelings" but offering to join a gym with his wife isn't going to make her feel loved, or safe, or secure. If his views of marriage are based purely on physical attraction, then goodness help her if she gets cancer and has to go through chemo, or some other horrible, unattractive disease. Women get older, they have children, their bodies change. Yes, some women stay in shape (by working incredibly hard) but most get caught up in the daily grind of kids, housework, work, etc. The media has made growing older without seeming to age "the norm". However, in real life, it seldom works that way (unless said woman ahs a nanny, chauffeur, housekeeper, etc.), and instead causes unrealistic physical expectations. Men expect to have size 2 or 6 wives forever, and that simply isn't the way most bodies are made. If a man wants to start an eating disorder, then by all means, he should just be "brutally honest", if he wants results, then he should love her for what's inside, and will then see results on the outside.
posted by nikksioux at 2:17 PM on March 16, 2008

nikksioux; well, here we come to the crux of the issue. You're talking about the normal wear and tear of aging in your post. The OP's question doesn't read to me like it's about that at all. It reads to me like his wife gained a lot of weight. Like a lot.

Nobody can be expected to maintain themselves like they are 25. Everybody should try to stay relatively healthy. How one reads this question probably has a lot to do with what they bring to it because I don't see how you're getting "expects to have a size 2 or 6 wife forever" from the question.

It's too bad the OP wasn't clearer. I certainly would react differently to "my wife was a petite size 6 when I married her and now she's a size 10! That's GROSS" than I would to "I love my wife. But I'm no longer physically attracted to her after she gained 150 pounds".

You don't see a difference there? Really?
posted by Justinian at 2:42 PM on March 16, 2008

I'm curious why everyone, including the anonymous poster, is so sure that this woman is now operating at something substantially higher than her body's setpoint. She's older than when she married, she's presumably had children. Her body chemistry has changed.

I think this kind of belief is the problem when you're in a relationship with someone who does not think the same way. The place my SO is from it's accepted that you get fat as you age. And, indeed they all do. By the time they are 40 most of his relatives are too heavy to be active. No-one sees this as a problem. Most of his relatives have serious health issues which are accepted as a natural consequence of middle age, child-bearing etc.

Where I come from it is generally accepted that you acheive adult size in your mid 20s and then you pretty much stay that way. My Mom had 5 kids and is close to the same size she was at 25. Things like adult onset diabetes are unheard of and staying active is the norm. I fully expect to age the same way and to be out doing stuff till the day I keel over.

I have no idea of the OP and his spouse are in the same situation but if so it may be useful to think about discussing health and aging with his wife in terms of her upbringing and his? If her parents have health problems it may help to frame the discussion too. My SO and I have had this discussion many times as he is very active but literally had no role models for maintaining himself as he ages. He is not aggressive about his health: if something hurts he thinks "oh well, guess I'm getting old" whereas I would assume it was an injury and pursue a 100% recovery. My idea of what you expect your body to be able to do at age 40, 45 or 55 is radically different from his.
posted by fshgrl at 2:49 PM on March 16, 2008 [2 favorites]

Keep in mind that it is harder for women to lose weight than men.
posted by thebrokenmuse at 4:44 PM on March 16, 2008

Keep in mind that it is harder for women to lose weight than men.

Uh, what? Explain?
posted by Justinian at 5:55 PM on March 16, 2008

Have you thought about getting a tandem bicycle? Then no one has to wait.
posted by mingshan at 6:19 PM on March 16, 2008

Response by poster: Justinian, I know what you're getting at, that the assertion about women's bodies is another apologist's response based on sketchy science, but it really is true. Women naturally store more body fat then men. It's, you know, our bodies putting it into our boobs and hips and stuff for baby-making time. And our body doesn't really want to let that fat go once it's on there. I've read this in respected publications but can't find any studies right now for you--everything's turning up ads for diet pills. But I can assure you at least from my experience and the experience of nearly everyone else I've talked to, men have a lot easier time putting on muscle and dropping body fat than females. Especially when you're talking about that last 10 or 20 pounds.

Of course, you can't really make that excuse when you're 150 pounds overweight--that isn't fat your body wants to have, and given the right regimen that's going to come off.
posted by Anonymous at 8:26 PM on March 16, 2008

It is implicit in marriage vows that we will work to stay healthy and not radically change ourselves after marriage.

It is?
posted by mewithoutyou at 8:52 PM on March 16, 2008

It is?

Sure, the whole "love, honor, and cherish" thing.
posted by Justinian at 11:33 PM on March 16, 2008

I know that you are annoyed and resentful, but this sounds like one of those marriage moments where you really need to look at yourself in the mirror and say "I promised to be the one person this woman could always trust."

Your wife is probably feeling very insecure in your relationship. She probably really needs the assurance that you will indeed love her through the thick and thin (pun intended). With all our societal pressures, weight is a much bigger psychological issue for women than men. For you, it's just "hey, I'm pudgy, i should hit the bike." But for her, she may fear that you will only love her under certain conditions. And maybe (consciously or subconsciously) she's set out to test that theory.

If you can just man-up for now and really reassure her that your love is more than skin deep, I'm positive she will drop the self destruction and soon enough you too will be enjoying each other physically again.
posted by muscat at 1:18 AM on March 17, 2008 [4 favorites]

This is a fascinating thread for me; I am married to someone who is overweight, and whom I love very much and find attractive (that she weighs more now than when we married isn't a factor, as she wasn't a stick then either, just a fantastic person worth spending the rest of my life with.)

However, her weight gain has introduced additional problems that are making our marriage a bit more difficult to keep on an even keel:

1. She no longer finds herself attractive, and it's difficult for me to be attracted to someone who herself thinks she's unattractive (one can only make so many positive comments and hear "no I'm ugly and awful" responses before the routine gets tiresome, even if you still find them attractive.)

2. She snores, horribly, so much so that our children (only recently verbal) complain about it as well, ground-shakingly so -- while she did occasionally before, now it's constant and means I either have to sleep in another room or spend hours awake reading until I get so tired that the noise doesn't keep me up.

3. We had children later in life, and the impact her weight will likely have to her longevity (ie how long she'll be around for the kids) is starting to come up.

What I find interesting about this thread, then, is that many seem to be piling on the "how dare you criticize her weight" thing, without realizing there are real side effects to such a circumstance that have nothing to do with appearance.
posted by davejay at 3:41 PM on March 17, 2008 [2 favorites]

Sure, the whole "love, honor, and cherish" thing

How does "love, honor and cherish" imply that we will work to stay healthy and not radically change ourselves after marriage? I'm genuinely curious about your interpretation on this. Furthermore, I see "in sickness and in health...forsaking all others" to mean that you'll stay with and love your spouse despite any loss of health or radical personal changes.

Then again, not everyone uses the traditional vows when they marry. OP's may have been something like "forsaking all others - unless you get fat."
posted by mewithoutyou at 2:59 PM on March 18, 2008 [2 favorites]

« Older Help Me Name My Major   |   Well, I hope we're not too messianic, Or a trifle... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.