17 June 2015

Weight-loss surgery can bring couples closer together

When two people in a relationship regard the weight loss surgery of one partner as a joint journey, they commonly describe positive changes in their level of intimacy.

Couples who view the weight-loss surgery of one partner as a joint effort often say they feel closer as a result, a new study suggests.

A team effort

While much research has been done on the health benefits of such surgery, less attention has been given to its effect on interpersonal relationships.

"There is very little published research on what happens in a couple relationship," said study leader Mary Lisa Pories, a researcher at East Carolina University. So, she and her colleagues interviewed 10 couples about the effects of the weight-loss surgery of one partner on the relationship.

All 10 couples told the researchers that they viewed the surgery as a team effort. "It was viewed as a joint journey," Pories said.

Read: Gastric bypass surgery

Interviews were done between three and 10 months after the surgery. The couples all described changes in physical health, emotional health, eating habits and their joint efforts.

The study participants also reported feeling greater intimacy in the relationship. "We found that relationships remained good or became stronger," Pories said. It didn't matter if the patient was the husband or the wife.

Relationship has more intimacy

The couples reported supporting the patient having surgery in many ways. "One started exercising with her spouse," Pories said. Another partner decided to stop drinking alcohol, as the patient was advised to abstain from alcohol for a year after surgery.

"Patients described that sex was as good or better than before surgery," Pories said. They didn't say the relationship had more "spark", necessarily, she noted, but rather more intimacy.

Read: Intimacy reduces stress

Couples also said they had higher energy levels, more positive moods and higher self-esteem.

The study was open to couples of all orientations, although those who participated were all heterosexual and either married or living together.

The most interesting finding, Pories said, was the "joint journey" attitude, the overwhelming feeling that they were in it together. She plans to re-interview the couples at a later point to see if that attitude continues.

The study was published in the journal Obesity Surgery.

Partner must be on board

The new research buttresses information that experts who work in the field know anecdotally, said David Sarwer, a professor of psychology in the department of psychiatry and surgery in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. He counsels patients before they undergo weight-loss surgery.

The joint-effort attitude is good, Sarwer said: "Ideally, this is what we like to see. Unfortunately, it is not universal."

That's why he focuses on what the patients' expectations are before the operation. For instance, he may counsel a husband whose marriage is in trouble that losing weight is not realistically going to save it.

Read: Weight-loss myths abound

"We often ask, 'How does your spouse feel [about the surgery]?,'" he said. He questions patients about whether they have concerns that a partner is going to sabotage their efforts or whether they feel the partner is on board with their weight-loss goals.

When Sarwer identifies potential problem issues during the evaluation, he encourages couples to go into counselling.

The new findings suggest that those contemplating weight-loss surgery should include their significant other in the process, Pories said. If a patient has no partner, he or she might ask a good friend to help provide emotional support, she said.

Read more:

Pros, cons of weight-loss surgery

Weight-loss surgery sometimes the best option

Weight-loss surgery may not ease depression

Image: Happy couple from Shutterstock


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