Woman Fat, Man Thin? Could Be a Rocky Road, Claims New Study

Mixed-weight couples have rockier relationships than same-weight couples, a new study has found. But here's the clincher: The problems only seem to crop up when it's the woman who's overweight, and not the other way around.

In other news: Chocolate is delicious.

"However many advances we have made, body image issues abound, and women, unfortunately, are more vulnerable to the societal pressures," Ruthy Kaiser, senior therapist for the Council for Relationships, based in Philadelphia, told Yahoo! Shine. "That makes it harder in a relationship for the woman, and easier for the man."

The results of the study, by researchers at the University of Puget Sound, in Tacoma, Wash., and the University of Arizona, in Tucson, were published last month in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. It had a small sample size-just 43 heterosexual couples, from 18 to 69 years old-but the findings were clear: When just the man was overweight, couples reported no more conflict than same-weight couples.

"It could be that women feel self-conscious about their weight as a result of cultural expectations, and men either agree that their partner should be thinner and make comments about it, or are sick of hearing their partners complain about their weight," the study's lead author, Tricia Burke, told Yahoo! Shine. "It could also be that in relationships with greater conflict, women are eating more to cope with their emotions associated with that conflict."

The destructive conflict, she and the other researchers found, can include full-on arguments as well as brewing feelings of anger and resentfulness. Other findings included an increase in conflict when mixed-weight couples frequently dined together ("You're eating that?").

"The overweight partner might feel insecure, judged, and angry, which could ultimately contribute to a power battle around food and eating in the relationship," the researchers wrote.
The good news? When the overweight woman felt her man was being supportive, either about how she looked or about her efforts to diet, the troubles died down.

"Anytime there is a significant difference in a couple-whether it's with careers, earnings, fitness levels-there is a potential for there to be strain or conflict," Kaiser explained. "But much of the time, it's a question of the way things are framed."

For example, Kaiser explained, with one couple she recently counseled, the overweight partner-a man, in this case-could not hear his wife's concern through her critical comments. "Rather than saying, 'I love you, I want to spend my life with you, I'm worried,' she would say things like, 'Look at that belly! How do you expect me to come near you with that?'"

In another case, a man told his overweight wife that if she really loved him, she would lose the weight-to which she answered that if he really loved her, he would accept her as is.

"Often it is the way the concern is expressed," Kaiser added. "And if each person genuinely feels okay about themselves, the difference doesn't have to equal conflict." But, in any case, she said, when mixed-weight couples argue, "I'm not certain that's all there is going on."