I’m a cis woman married to an amazing woman. She has struggled with mental illness during the course of our relationship and marriage, and takes antidepressants to help. These have caused her to gain weight. I love her no matter what she looks like, but her body image has been a big source of her struggles over the years. In her previous relationship, her ex would tell her she had gained weight and intentionally make her jealous by praising attractive women who didn’t look like her. She’s asking me to do the same for her as a motivation to help her lose weight. Han, I’m incredibly uncomfortable emotionally abusing my wife as motivation. I’ve expressed this to her and made it clear I’m happy to support her weight loss endeavors in a healthy way, but she seems upset by this. How can I help?
Trying to be a loving wife
Dear Loving Wife,
Oof, this is a really tough situation. I absolutely understand your discomfort with being purposely abusive to your wife to “help” her with her weight loss. I completely understand her urge to take the weight back off—while I’m very vocal in my hatred of the "skinny-equals-morally-superior" narrative that our culture is so deeply imbued with, I also know how hard it can be to watch your body change in ways that make you feel uncomfortable in your skin. This is especially rough when these changes are the results of medical treatments that are supposed to be making you *better* in some way.
As a personal anecdote, I put on a significant amount of weight my freshman year of college due to a combination of going on birth control and taking a mental med that inhibited my ability to feel full. I still remember screaming when I found out about it (I was… not great at reading up on potential side effects) something along the lines of “WHO THE FUCK THOUGHT IT WAS A GOOD IDEA TO PUT A DEPRESSED TEENAGER WITH BAD SELF ESTEEM ON A MEDICATION THAT WOULD MAKE THEM FAT?!” But I digress.
I 100% believe that you should stick to your guns on not trying to make your wife feel bad about herself in order to support her weight loss. I recommend going back to her and seeing if she’s willing to have a conversation with you about it again. “Hey, I know that this is a thing that has worked for you in the past, but I just really can’t bring myself to treat you in a way that I don’t think is ethical just to help you lose weight. I’m 100% on board to help you put together healthy meal plans, cook together, go exercise together, or just hold you accountable when you make those plans for yourself—but I’m not going to compare you to other people or tell you I don’t love the way you look.” If your wife really needs someone to bully her into losing weight, she can always sign up for a boot camp-style fitness class—those people will yell at you plenty, and you can pay them for it!
I hope that with some conversation, your wife will understand that it’s unfair for her to ask you to do something that makes you profoundly uncomfortable to support her weight loss goals. You can stock up on healthy recipes, try to keep junk food out of your house, and suggest physical activities to do together instead of drinking or Netflix binging if you want to be able to help in a productive way. But just because her ex was “willing” to be mean to her to make her work harder, that does not mean you are obligated to participate. There are ways to be supportive other than negging, and hopefully your wife will realize that.
Have a question for Han? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.