How Do I Tell My Spouse to Have Bariatric Surgery?

Man and woman holding hands in supportive manner

One of the most upsetting things to see in a relationship is your partner struggling with their weight and continually yo-yo-ing up and down. Getting excited at the achievements but then falling into deep frustration and maybe even depression at every failure. While it can be difficult and frustrating to watch, it is something that most partners of those suffering from obesity must live with as they try to lose weight. Ultimately, the hormonal and metabolic barriers to losing a significant amount of weight are such that 90 to 95% of obese patients trying to lose weight with diet and exercise alone simply can’t do so.

Much like other chronic diseases, obesity does not just affect the person. The entire family often suffers, even if they are not obese. A spouse may not be able to have the emotional and physical relationship with their partner that they once had or hoped to have. Kids often lose out on their parent’s attention and physical presence because of their inability to perform certain activities due to weight or navigating the parent’s preoccupation with body image and the emotional roller coaster that comes with struggling with weight.

The Problem With Pressure

Frequently, conversations about weight can become contentious. Your spouse may want to lose weight but may be unable to do so. Further, the spouse, pushing for their partner’s weight loss, may run out of patience. Sometimes they don’t see eye to eye, and the relationship becomes strained. As such, spouses need to understand that a person can and will only lose a significant amount of weight (and keep it off) when they are ready. External pressures can only go so far, but there is usually an “aha” moment or catalyst point when the patient understands they need to make a change. The same goes for bariatric surgery. You may find that your spouse still believes they can do it on their own even if they have tried multiple diets to no avail. Even though your frustration and pressure come from a place of concern and wanting them to be happy, it typically does not yield the reaction you want unless your spouse is, in fact, ready to move ahead.

What Can You Do?

First, be supportive. It’s important to remember that if your spouse has expressed frustration with his or her weight, they probably are not lying to you but simply haven’t found the formula for making a change. You may think of them as unmotivated or lazy but remember that obesity is a disease that affects the body and mind and is consequently very difficult to overcome. Having your support, especially during the frustrating and depressing times when their weight loss progress has stalled, can make the lows of their journey less dramatic.

Join them on their journey. It’s essential that before we criticize, no matter how constructively, we look at our circumstances and see if we can improve. The likelihood is that we can. That said, doing it together is far easier than not having a partner in the weight loss process. If you have some or lots of weight to lose, you can be even more supportive by being part of the process. If you are both obese, attending an online or in-person bariatric surgery seminar together may be a great way to gather more information and motivate one or both of you to have the surgery.

Be honest with friends, family, and even your children if they are old enough to have the conversation. Spouses can often live in a bit of a bubble, which doesn’t allow them to see their circumstances clearly. Speaking to trusted family and friends, including more mature children, can offer some perspective. However, admittedly, this is difficult and requires vulnerability on your part. But asking for emotional help from those closest to you is a first step toward asking for the physical support that your bariatric surgeon and the weight loss procedure can provide.

Lead by example. Taking charge and revamping the food situation at home is a great way to improve the health of everyone in your household while also showing you genuinely care. You may not be a cook, but this is a great time to find myriad recipes on the Internet or a family cookbook that can make a big difference in your life. Eating well is something that your spouse will have to do after bariatric surgery as well, so starting now can only benefit them and you.

Practice positive reinforcement. If your spouse is trying hard and doing well, don’t be afraid to give a compliment. Showering them with compliments all day long may seem insincere, so a spontaneous “you look great,” “good job,” or “I’m proud of you” can go a long way to validating their effort.

Ultimately, your spouse is the one who will decide when he or she is ready to take that next big step. Nothing you can say or do can or should change that. However, being supportive and conscientious can allow your spouse to come to that realization more quickly. No matter how urgently you want them to change their lives, being along for the ride as a positive influence and source of help and confidence is the best way to change both your lives.

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