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Managing Relationship Changes Due to Bariatric Surgery

Couple walks together as they navigate relationship changes after bariatric surgery

Many patients are under the incorrect impression that bariatric surgery is simply a catalyst for a physical transformation. To be sure, your body will change dramatically after surgery. Not only will you lose weight, but you will experience an improvement or resolution of many of the diseases associated with morbid obesity… if you follow your postoperative plan. However, what’s often overlooked is the psychological component of weight loss. Think of the newfound psychological, emotional, and physical freedom that patients experience as they lose weight or can perform activities they may not have in years. What about the confidence to reignite their social lives and relationships?

This is, of course, a fascinating and exciting time for the patient. However, there are others around them – parents, adult children, spouses, family, and friends that may not only be used to the old version of that person but may have thrived on what that represents.

This is not to say that a family member friend who cannot wrap their minds around the new you is necessarily against you; they simply may not know how to handle the newfound confidence you may be exuding. New things can be scary, and they may be fearful of being left behind, or if they don’t change, they will become irrelevant in your life.

Communication is the basis for mitigating many of these circumstances, both before and after your procedure. Of course, how you develop your relationships is very much a personal decision. However, it may be helpful to inform those closest to you, and those who will be a part of your postoperative life, of your surgery goals – physically, socially, and emotionally. These are tough conversations to have, especially before the procedure, and some of these family and friends may try to convince you not to have the procedure. Ultimately, you can process their advice with your feelings and needs to make your final decision.

This communication must continue after surgery because your pre-surgical discussions were simply theoretical. Now, post-surgery, reality enters the equation. You will be losing weight quickly, and these discussions should happen relatively early in the weight loss process.

Of course, there will be times when our friends or family members simply cannot wrap their minds around what they may perceive to be an adverse change in your relationship with them. Immediately discounting them as jealous or brutal is never the best option. Put yourself in their shoes and try to understand their feelings. However, there will be a time when you do have to move on (at least in your mind) if they refuse to accept the new you. This may not mean cutting them out of your lives, ignoring them, or getting into arguments. This may be an internal decision to allow them their opinion but not allow their ideas to bring you down in your post-surgical lifestyle.

It is essential to remember that the changes you experience after bariatric surgery are significant, and sometimes, the fear and excitement of what comes after surgery clouds our judgment. Some patients go overboard and do or say things that can be decidedly destructive. So, while you expect your family and friends to be sympathetic to your new life, you should realize that some of their views may be valid and require some introspection.

Of course, matters of the heart and mind are particularly complicated to navigate after bariatric surgery. Still, you should also remember that you weren’t the first and will not be the last to experience these very same issues. We always encourage you to speak to support group buddies to understand what others in your position may have done. If your postop relationships damage your journey towards a better and healthier life, we encourage you to consult with a mental health professional who can assist you in developing the communication or coping tools to correct the path or move on. Either way, you can be very proud of yourself for taking a significant first step toward improving your life and health. Many never get the opportunity to visit these challenges, let alone address them and come out victorious.

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