What if your partner isn’t on board?
I used to say, “I can’t imagine how hard this process would be if my husband was unsupportive.”
But the truth is, I CAN imagine it...because it’s the reality for so many women working to repair their relationship with food and rebuild their self-esteem after dieting. I hear it from my clients all the time:
“My husband keeps telling me to just go on a diet.”
“My wife says I’m eating too many sweets.”
“My boyfriend told me he’s not attracted to me at this weight.”
Partners who haven’t had the same body image and food challenges you’ve faced still live in the diet culture we’re escaping from, and likely don’t understand the visceral need for freedom and peace with food that motivated you to take this journey. Or maybe they’ve faced exactly the same challenges you have, but just aren’t at the same point in their evolution.
It’s not really helpful to hear “Just divorce the bastard,” because of course relationships are extremely complex and there may be many reasons you want to stay together. However, you don’t have to just vent in Facebook groups or suffer in silence.
Here are some ways you can enlist your partner’s support in this process:
First and foremost, set a boundary. Even if you really want your husband or wife to understand how you feel, the first step is to create a safe space for yourself in the relationship. Tell him or her what is offensive or triggering to you, and make it clear what you’re willing to discuss with him or her. Consider saying something like, “I understand how you feel about my [eating habits / weight], and I’d appreciate your respect during this process. If you can’t show support right now, then please keep your comments to yourself.”
Don’t blame or criticize your partner. This just sets them up to be defensive. Any time you speak about this issue, make your comments or requests about yourself: “This is what I need...I’d appreciate this...This is what I expect...It would really help me if you could…”
Take the time to explain, if he or she is open to learning. You could discuss a book you’re reading, or tell them what your experience was like growing up with fat shaming. If a frank discussion seems impossible right now, maybe you could share an occasional article, or show them a Facebook meme about body image. Planting seeds is much more effective than forcing them to listen if they’re not ready.
Model behavior. Show them the same respect you’re asking for. Express understanding and compassion for their resistance. Loving, harmonious conversations have a much more positive effect than angry screaming matches.
Ask them to watch a movie or documentary about body image with you. “Embrace” on iTunes, “Shrill” on Hulu, or “Dumplin” on Netflix might be good choices.
See if they’ll attend a counseling session with you, or speak to a HAES professional. Sometimes the message is much more impactful coming from an authority.
Reconnect physically. If you feel ready for it, you might try setting aside some time to have more physical contact. Anything from holding hands to mutual massages to a quiet (or loud!) night in the bedroom with candles and music.
Build yourself up. Remind yourself why you started this journey, and seek support outside the relationship. Stay the course, and allow your spouse to witness your transformation. Don’t put yourself in the position of needing their validation to continue -- set an intention for yourself, pursue your goals, and allow them to get on board. It may feel scary to be on a path without their support right now, but give them the space to change. I’ve seen dramatic transformations occur in relationships as a result of one partner deciding to make a change and inviting their love along for the ride. It might be better than you could have imagined.
This process isn’t always going to be easy, but it’s possible to do it in an intentional and open-minded way. Give yourself credit for the work you’re doing, and give your partner the opportunity to grow and change.