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The Challenges of Having a Significant Other

Jacquelyn K. Smiertka, RN., Owner Beyond Change

It goes without saying that the very best of relationships will go through tough periods of adjustment over the years no matter how perfect the couple might be for each other. It does seem the ‘for better or worse’ clause in a marriage in this day and age is a little weak in its meaning at best. When we look at such a high divorce rate in the United States which is currently around 50% of all marriages ending up in a court room to be dissolved due to irreconcilable differences, we have to wonder if there is such a thing as the sanctity of marriage.

I look at my own marriage for example. I know he has tested my patience on many occasions and apparently he would feel the same toward me. It seems hard to believe that David would ever be impatient with me since it would be obvious that he has married the perfect wife. (You must know I am writing this article just hoping he will not proof and edit the final copy.)

We, like all married couples, have experienced our share of ups and downs. As I look back some problems were pretty silly while others took a while to resolve. I would believe that to this day our two sons could say they never really remembered the two of us not getting along. Did they know we disagreed? I am sure they did but rare full blown arguments were generally done while they were not around. It would not have been healthy for them to think our marriage was based on one argument after another but it was healthy for them to know that mom and dad had a disagreement from time to time. I would like to think I usually won those arguments or maybe David just let me think that I did especially if he let me have the last word. One of the best things he ever taught me was to keep what we were fighting about on the current topic and to not bring up past arguments that had been resolved many months or years before. It was hard because I always seemed to have the knack of having instant recall about the past once-thought-to-be traumatic events.

What we did not have to deal with during our years of marriage was a dramatic change in either one of us. Unlike those who have experienced weight loss surgery it would go without saying the physical change could do nothing less then pose a variety of issues that could lead to a stressful relationship.

One problem I have witnessed that has been mentioned by many weight loss patients has been that of partner jealousy. In an article posted online by the surgical team of the Allina Health System in Minneapolis the issue of partner jealousy was discussed. “Partner jealousy indicates that your partner may have a hard time dealing with the new you. Not only has your body changed, but you may be more outgoing and social as a result of your increased self-confidence and self-esteem. This can cause your partner to feel insecure. He or she may become possessive or distant. If problems develop in your relationship, please see a therapist.”

It goes without saying that weight loss constitutes body changes which in turn can lead to stress not only for the patient but also for the significant other and close family members. Dealing with stressful events can make or break relationships. What ultimately creates any kind of stress is change. Some typical but major changes in life according to the Mayo Clinic Tool for Healthier Lives include: death or illness, accidents, marriage, pregnancy, divorce, job promotion or lay off, money problems and retirement. (It could also be added that incredible weight loss could also be listed as a major change.) They also add: “One of the reasons that these changes are so stressful is that they're emotionally charged. If you try to repress or disregard the emotions surrounding these events, your stress level is bound to skyrocket.” It is obvious that a dramatic change in body weight is also an emotionally charged stressor.

The Mayo Clinic reports a variety of helpful stress management techniques including: 1. Re-prioritizing work goals and tasks. 2. Making sure to carve out time for physical activity everyday. 3. Not skipping meals or resorting to fast food. 4. Delegating household chores to other family members. 5. Taking short breaks to practice relaxed breathing or muscle relaxation. 6. Putting a positive spin on negative thoughts.

Mayo suggests having a stress management plan. (I have added my thoughts pertinent to the WLS patients.) This plan may include: 1. Understanding that change is inevitable. (When anyone makes the decision to have weight loss surgery it goes without saying there will be a change in the body and in relationships with family and friends and food-- this is inevitable) 2. Recognizing types of life changes that can lead to stress. (Recognizing that weight loss may lead to a healthier life but not necessarily a happy life--happiness is acquired by daily conscious effort) 3. Learning the warning signs of stress, such as anxiety, sleep problems, irritability or mood swings. (These may be the same signs following varying stages of weight loss--emotional therapy when experiencing these warning signs will be helpful) 4. Nourishing a strong support system of family and friends you can turn to in times of stress. (If you believe, after counseling that your significant other is not supportive find family and friends who will be, everyone has the ability to develop a strong support system) 5. Identifying and then acting on healthy strategies for dealing with stressors that you can control. (Dealing with food after surgery may be one of the biggest stressors for patients-- find a dietitian who specializes in working with eating disorders) 6. Strengthening your resilience skills, which helps you adapt to and cope well with change and hardships. (Seek assistance if needed to help strengthen resilience skills)

Having weight loss surgery is challenging at its very best. If all one had to do was worry about the surgery itself it would be an easy road. Unfortunately that is only the beginning stage of what is yet to come. If the patient lived on a desert island with no one and no fast food around maybe life would be less stressful. If the patient didn’t have to worry about those around them, friends and family and particularly the significant other who is involved in their lives on a daily basis stress might be at a minimum. There is something to be said about the services of the psychologists and the dietitians. These highly educated

professionals are the best back up services we can offer to all of our patients who go through the daily challenges of living with a new life changing system.

As for my significant other, I know he is very accepting of the challenges that I present to him on an almost daily basis. I know the ‘for better or worse’ vow that we took has been tested over the years but married life is like that for everyone, even the weight loss surgery patient. I often think about a great quote that I read written by Doug Larson, “More marriages might survive if the partners realized that sometimes the better comes after the worse.” The worse for the WLS patient may be a long term adjustment for both the partner and the patient, the better will come with time, patience and a loving understanding of each other through trying times.

There are some who might end up realizing that ‘irreconcilable differences” may lead to improving their self-worth and self-esteem and realizing that there are two people involved in every decision, conversation and that the differences are not that major.

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