One of the most popular topics of discussion on this website revolves around a complaint from a husband whose formerly svelte wife has become obese and unrecognizable to him. He wrote that his wife expects him to still be attracted to her even after getting so fat that she no longer looks like herself. He wrote:
How in the world can she expect me to find her attractive? I never fell in love with this person she’s become. I haven’t seen any sign of my wife in years and I’m ready to tell her lose the weight or I’m out.
Any fat wives who stumble across the comments this topic has generated while looking for evidence that there are husbands who can still be attracted to their wives even after their wives gain enough weight to be considered obese will be sadly disappointed. Across the board the husbands who have commented who are facing the same problem are disgusted, fed up, frustrated, embarrassed and want no part of their fat wives; and it’s kind of difficult to argue that they are in the wrong to feel the way they feel.
When a woman gains enough weight to no longer look like the same person she has gained a lot of weight. It’s not unreasonable to hope that your husband will be understanding and supportive if you have some sort of problem that has lead to you gaining so much weight that you no longer look like yourself; but it is unreasonable to expect him to accept your choice to do nothing about the problem. This is not about someone who has been a size zero all her life and then after she turned 30 things started to change and it became harder and harder to maintain the lifestyle of food deprivation and obsessive exercising that most of us skinny women have to subject ourselves to in order to stay skinny. It’s not about someone going from a size zero to a size 4 or a size 4 to a size 8 or a size 8 to a size 12. We’re talking about someone going from a healthy size to something that can in no way be classified as just a little overweight. We’re talking about becoming so large that if you weren’t already married there would be no way you would be able to find a man except in a case where there’s a man who specifically finds excessively obese women attractive.
If you are depressed about how you look, assuming you don’t have issues with body dysmorphia where in reality you look perfectly fine to everybody else but you think you’re fat–if you are in fact fat and you’re depressed about it and hate the sight of yourself–how can you in all fairness condemn your husband if he is also depressed about your fatness and also hates the sight of you? The same societal attitudes that influence how you feel about the way you look influence how your husband feels about the way you look. If you are so obese that people give you looks of scorn when you go out, you need to understand that your husband is affected by this as much as you are affected by the fact that you’re so fat it draws negative attention. Unless he married you while you were obese, it’s unreasonable to expect him to feel any differently than anyone else about your obesity just because he’s your husband. If you know that there is no way he would have looked at you if he’d passed you on the street while you were obese, except to look at you with the same disgust that other people look at you now, then you should understand the predicament in which he has found himself on account of your obesity. He never would have married an obese woman. He never would have given an obese woman the time of day; but here he is married to an obese woman who expects him to treat her like she’s the most beautiful woman in the world and like it makes no difference to him what she looks like on the outside because he loves her wholly and completely and it’s his love for her that compels the desires of his body so he can still desire her no matter how she looks.
In some of the comments that the discussion mentioned above generated, the women who felt that the complaining husbands were failing to live up to their vow to love their wife in sickness and health argue that obesity is an illness and therefore classifiable under the promise to love their wife in sickness. Indeed no one reaches a weight of 300 pounds who is mentally well. While obesity is not an illness in the way cancer is an illness, excessive weight gain does result from there being something wrong whether it is mental, emotional or physical. No one who is mentally and emotionally sound is going to just sit back and watch while they balloon from 115 pounds to 220 pounds because they love food so much they don’t care the damage food is doing to their health. So from that perspective it is certainly a reasonable argument to make that if a husband truly cares about his wife he will be more concerned that there is something drastically wrong with her mentally and/or emotionally or possibly even medically. And in all likelihood, husbands who care about their wives do recognize that something is wrong and do care enough to try to be sensitive and helpful in whatever way they can; but at the end of the day, they can’t fix the problem for their wife.
Unless it happens because of some kind of medical issue, excessive weight gain requires that a person continually engages in behavior that results in them gaining more and more weight each day. You don’t balloon to 300 pounds from 125 pounds overnight. If a person is eating out of depression or anxiety and gaining weight, they can only arrive at 300 pounds from 125 pounds by doing this for a long enough period of time for this dramatic transformation to occur. By the time they’ve gained 25 pounds they know things are out of control and they know the reason they have gained 25 pounds is because they have been medicating with food. They know if they continue to medicate with food they will continue to gain weight. There’s a big enough difference between 125 pounds and 150 pounds to ensure that the weight gain does not go unnoticed. If a person is in such a bad place that realizing they have gained 25 pounds doesn’t wake them up and they just go on doing the same thing that made them gain the 25 pounds, gaining an additional 25 and then another 25 on top of that, there really isn’t anything anyone else can do to help them. The only love that is going to save someone in this situation is self love. Unconditional love from important people in their life could be argued to be more damaging in this situation because when the problem spouse, whether wife or husband, feels safe and secure in their spouse’s acceptance of the self destructive behavior and the consequence of obesity that results, they are less likely to do anything about the problem.
Certainly it is reasonable to think that by the time a husband reaches the point where he’s contemplating divorcing his wife over her obesity, he had tried to help her recognize her obesity to be a problem and had tried to get her to do something about it long before it reached this critical point. For whatever the reason might be, she was unable to get control over herself and refused to make choices that were healthy for her and for her family. Is it fair to expect her husband to sit back and quietly allow his life to be destroyed by her lack of control over herself and her choice to continue to destroy her life? Is there anything healthy about that kind of love where we expect people to make the choice to climb into our pit of hopelessness and stay there with us just to watch us while we self destruct? Is it not extremely and unacceptably selfish to ask someone to stay around and support you in your choice to refuse to do what is necessary to achieve mental, emotional and physical well-being? How can you ask someone to love you when you don’t love yourself? How can you ask someone to care about you when you don’t care about yourself? How can you ask someone to value you when you don’t value yourself?
It isn’t just the case that men who turn to the internet crying “My wife is fat and I want to divorce her”, are horrible, self-absorbed, vain jerks who only married their wives for looks. It is well and good to say that your husband should love you for who you are, but are you really the same “you” at 300 pounds that you were at 125 pounds? And if you’re not the same you then are you really saying that your husband should love you no matter how dramatically you change from the woman with whom he first fell in love to someone in whom he would never have been interested under any circumstance had he met her first?
If a man got married to a woman who looked like this:
And now that woman has changed in appearance and looks more like this:
Is it really so terrible of him to be unhappy about his wife’s transformation and be contemplating divorce as a means for getting out of a situation he would never have put himself into willingly?
Note: Obesity is a very real problem and nothing in this article is meant to make light of the problems that individuals who suffer with obesity face each day. Obesity is a bigger problem than simply being just a matter of the sufferer having no self control and eating too much food. It’s a societal problem and we all can do some little to help even if the little we do is going the extra 500 miles to try to help the people we love find the will and the strength to help themselves.
Update July 16 2015: We feel it is important to clarify that it is not the point of this article to argue that being overweight or obese makes a woman undeserving of her husband’s love and respect. This article is specifically focused on the subject of husbands who do find it difficult to love and respect their overweight or obese wife and who want to divorce their wife on account of her weight. This article should not be construed to be a defense of one spouse against the other. It is simply a discussion of the matter at hand that takes the reality of societal attitudes towards weight, and the reality of marital relationships (as opposed to the fantasy) into account. While we might not always like the truth, it is better for everyone in the long run to keep things honest and real.