Blondes might have more fun, but thinner women have happier relationships with their physically-fit male counterparts, according to a study titled "You're going to eat that?'' Relationship processes and conflict among mixed-weight couples published last month in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.
When researchers from the University of Puget Sound, University of Arizona, and Hanover College examined the conflict among heterosexual mixed-weight and same-weight couples, they found that mixed-weight couples, specifically couples including overweight women and healthy weight men, reported greater conflict both generally and on a daily basis, compared to matched-weight couples; however, general conflict was reduced with greater perceived support from the partner.
The study cites prior research that men place a greater emphasis on their partners’ thinness than do women, possibly because men perceive women’s attractiveness to be an indicator of reproductive fitness. So when a healthy weight man is in a relationship with an overweight woman, his unfulfilled desire for a thin partner might contribute to increased conflict in these relationships.
Similarly, these overweight women might be aware that their partner would be more attracted to them if they were thinner. These women might feel insecure and/or critical about their bodies as a result, making them less likely to be affectionate and, ultimately, resulting in lower intimacy and greater relational conflict.
Critical Men Make Fat Women Fatter
The study says that heavier women might report lower relationship quality as a function of their perceived negative evaluations from their partners. When women perceive a negative evaluation about their body from their spouse (e.g., spouse’s comments) they report greater body dissatisfaction and sometimes employ unhealthy behaviors (e.g., bingeing) as a coping response to these negative feelings.
More importantly, there may be serious health concerns at issue beyond the gender blame game. The study says that overweight women in relationships with healthy weight men might be at particularly high risk, as poor relationship quality can be especially deleterious to women’s physical health. The study suggests that these women should be made aware of the risks associated with being in a relationship with a healthy weight partner, as well as with the supportive relational processes that might reduce feelings of relational conflict.
You're going to eat that?
The study also found that mixed-weight couples reported greater relational conflict when they reported eating together more frequently, regardless of whether it was the male or the female who was overweight. Researchers say this finding is consistent with research suggesting that partners with a healthy eating philosophy use shared mealtimes as opportunities to influence their overweight partners to eat a healthier diet.
The full study and its methodology can be found here.