This investigation examined whether a wife’s BMI interacts with her perceived husband’s weight-related criticisms or her husband’s weight stigma to predict psychological and relational outcomes. Several interactions between 1) wives’ BMI and husbands’ weight stigma and 2) a wife’s BMI and her perceived weight-related criticisms from her husband were significant. Not only did 1) wives’ BMI and husbands’ weight stigma and 2) a wife’s BMI and perceived husband weight related criticisms significantly predict a husband’s rating of how his wife matches his ideal mate and lower husband’s rating of his wife’s mate value, but they also predicted husband ratings of depression and marital satisfaction. Therefore, husbands who have negative attitudes toward heavier people, in general, or perhaps share those attitudes as weight related criticisms with their wife, not only view their wife as a less a desirable or ideal mate, but also have lower marital satisfaction. It is less clear why a husband’s weight stigma may interact with his wife’s BMI to predict his own depression. However, there is a long-standing relationship between marital satisfaction and depression (17).
Alternatively, the interaction of a wife’s BMI and her perceived husband’s weight-related criticisms, along with the interaction of wives’ BMI and husbands’ weight stigma never produced main effects for wife outcomes in the absence of an interaction effect. The interaction effects were only observed for a wife’s rating of her mate value and a wife’s rating of how she matches her husband’s ideal mate. These interactions yielded the characteristic pattern observed in Figure I. These mate value ratings appeared unaffected or only modestly negatively affected by the husband’s weight stigma or perceived weight related criticisms when the wife’s weight was lower; however, when the wife’s weight was heavier, as husband’s weight stigma or perceived weight related criticisms increased, the wife’s rating of herself as a desirable or ideal mate were greatly diminished. Several interpretations are possible. First, as a wife’s BMI increases, weight related comments may be harder to dismiss or may have a greater impact on a wife’s perceptions of herself as a desirable or ideal partner. Second, as a wife’s BMI increases, she may internalize the weight stigma and view herself as an undesirable or less than ideal mate. The interaction between wife’s BMI and her husband’s weight stigma may suggest that when a wife is heavier, perhaps a husband’s weight stigma is shared with his wife in various ways, including but not limited to weight related criticisms, in a manner that diminishes her perceptions of herself as a desirable or ideal partner. Again, wives’ perception of her mate value and how she matches her husband’s ideal mate has less impact when a wife is thinner. Overall, this is consistent with previous research, whereby women are frequently subjected to and experience consequences from weight-related comments from their partner (4–6).
This report offers insight into the interplay of wife BMI and husband weight-related attitudes and behaviors within a relationship among husbands and wives in a heterosexual relationship. Because weight bias is nearly ubiquitous and weight-related comments are all too common, these findings are of great importance. While weight stigma may only be weakly associated with an individual’s actual weight, it may have a great impact on perceptions of being an ideal or desirable mate and marital satisfaction when a partner’s weight is concerned. It is the unfortunate combination of weight stigma and expression of this stigma through critiques and higher wife BMI that subjects the couple to further adverse outcomes. Husbands and wives may benefit from marital counseling and challenging weight bias and weight ideals in pursuit of a healthier relationship. Exploration of interventions for couples may also be beneficial. Taken together, these findings suggest that to truly understand the impact of weight stigma and weight related criticisms in marriage, it is important to consider both a spouse’s attitudes and their partners BMI.
Strengths and Limitations
The current study has several strengths. First, these findings extend research reporting the negative impact of higher BMI and weight stigma in dating relationships to the negative impact of IWB in marital relationships (1, 18). Second, participants were drawn from an online survey platform designed to approximate the US on age, race, and region of the country, thus our sample is likely more representative than many convenience samples of weight stigma.
Limitations of this study include the associational nature of the data, which precludes causal interpretations. However, our findings are consistent with numerous past studies which have demonstrated the harmful consequences of weight bias, including in intimate relationships (1). Also, while this investigation’s sample was designed to approximate the U.S. population on several key demographics (i.e., age, race, region of the country), the sample was somewhat lacking in lower SES individuals. Further, because the sample was collected primarily online, we had to rely on self-reported height and weight to calculate BMI. Finally, the study focused on heterosexual married couples and the findings may not apply to same sex married couples.
What is already known on this subject?
Intimate relationships have been identified as a common source of weight stigmatizing experiences. Relative to men, women are more likely to receive weight-related comments from their romantic partner and these comments are associated with diminished physical and mental health.
What does this study add?
This study is one of the first to examine interactions between wives BMI and husbands’ weight stigma and wives’ BMI and her perceived weight-related criticisms. These findings suggest that to truly understand the impact of weight stigma and weight related criticisms in marriage, it is important to consider both a spouse’s attitudes and their partners BMI.