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One Reason Some Couples Fight More (And How to Stop)

By Carol Church, Writer, Family Album

Reviewed by Linda Bobroff, PhD, RD, LD/N, Department of Family, Youth, and Community Sciences, University of Florida

“Really? Ice cream again?”

“Are you sure you want to get fries with that?”

Has your spouse or partner ever made a comment like this to you? Such remarks often don’t go over well-—particularly when the person making them is slim, while the other partner is not.

Weight Differences Can Spark Problems

In fact, a small 2012 study in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships suggests, mixed-weight couples may experience more conflict generally…especially if the overweight partner is female.

Researchers collected weight data from 43 married or cohabiting couples. They also asked them how often they argued and spoke negatively towards each other, how frequently they ate together, and how supportive their partners were of their efforts to lead a healthy lifestyle.

Some Combinations More Problematic Than Others

When both partners were at a healthy weight or both partners were overweight, conflict was low. And when men were overweight but women were not, there was generally even less trouble with arguments and negativity.

But when women were overweight and men were not, conflict levels rose. And regardless of gender, meal times tended to be fraught with conflict among couples of mismatched weights.

Why do mixed-weight couples struggle? Men may be dissatisfied with their partners’ weights, or women may feel distressed about their own weight. In either case, these tensions could result in behaviors that harm the relationship.

Support, Not Sniping

The good news is that when men in mixed-weight couples genuinely supported their spouses’ efforts to improve their health, conflict was lower. Offering encouragement for positive behavior, rather than negative comments about perceived poor choices, can help couples keep the peace and feel good about themselves and their relationships.

References:

Burke, T. J., Randall, A. K., Corkery, S. A., Young, V. J., & Butler, E. A. (2012). ”You’re going to eat that?” Relationship processes and conflict among mixed-weight couples. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 29(8), 1109-1130. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0265407512451199

(Originally published in a slightly different form as: Church, C. (2012). Chores and your child. [Radio broadcast episode]. Family Album Radio. Gainesville, FL:  University of Florida.)

Photo Credits: Rebbeck_Images/iStock/Thinkstock