Marriages More Satisfying When Wife Is Thinner Than Hubby?

Marriages More Satisfying When Wife Is Thinner Than Hubby?

Lots of different outlets are covering this article from ABC News, but they’re putting a really sensational spin on it and it, to me, is losing its more salient point… so I’m going straight to the source.

Before I do, though, I want to share this quote that’s in the comments and, hilariously, sums this article up in under fifty words:

“Attention women! Don’t fall for this headline. Read carefully, and you’ll see that all you have to do is be thinner than your guy. Thus, if you’re fat, no need to put down the fork and get off the couch and all the cliches that fat-shamers spew. Just find a guy who’s bigger than you! Problem solved.”

So, before you begin, it’s not saying women need to be “tiny.” They just need to be “smaller than their partners.”

The President and our First Lady, from The Official White House Photo Blog

From ABC News (the bold is what I felt to be most important):

Marriages are more satisfying for both partners when wives are thinner than their husbands, according to a new study.

The four-year study of 169 newlywed couples found that husbands were more satisfied initially and wives were more satisfied over time when the fairer sex had a lower body mass index — a common measure of body fat. The study was published in the July issue of Social Psychological and Personality Science.

“There’s a lot of pressure on women in our society to achieve an often unreachably small weight,” said Andrea Meltzer, a doctoral candidate at the University of Tennessee and lead author of the study. “The great take-home message from our study is that women of any size can be happy in their relationships with the right partner. It’s relative weight that matters, not absolute weight. It’s not that they have to be small.

Just how relative weight impacts marital bliss is unclear, but Meltzer has a theory.

“One idea is that attractiveness and weight are more important to men,” she said. “That might be why we see this emerging at the beginning of the marriage for husbands, and their dissatisfaction might be affecting wives’ satisfaction over time.”

The finding held up even when other marital stressors, such as depression and income level, were ruled out. But relative weight is not the only factor that affects marital satisfaction, Meltzer cautioned.

“Obviously a lot of things play into relationship satisfaction and this is just one of them,” she said. “It’s not a guarantee to be happy in a relationship.”

Man and women tend to be happier in a relationship when the men are “more powerful in a benign way,” according to Susan Heitler, a couple’s therapist in Denver and author of

“The good news is there are many dimensions that symbolize power for men,” she said, adding that height, weight, earning capacity, intelligence, education level, personality, even a big smile are all empowering traits. “Those signs of bigness lead to a subconscious feeling within the woman of more security and, in turn, more marital satisfaction.”

The effects of marriage on weight, and vice versa, are tricky to tease apart. For women, unhappiness can often lead to weight gain — a situation that both partners often feel uncomfortable talking about. But Heitler said using open-ended questions to understand the impact of weight changes on the relationship can help.

Instead of asking, ‘Are you annoyed that I’ve put on weight?’ try, ‘How do you feel about the weight I’ve gained?’ Heitler said. “It’s better to know if the weight bothers your spouse than to not have that information.”

The importance of relative weight may vary between couples as well as between cultures. Ninety-four percent of the partners involved in the study were white.

“The emphasis on weight is an American and European value,” said Heitler. “The finding may be very different among the black community. In Africa, weight is a sign of fertility and voluptuousness. Heavier women are prized in that culture.”

Similarly, older partners may weigh the importance of relative weight differently than younger newlyweds.

“The effects of relative weight could definitely change over time,” Meltzer said, adding that all the couples in her study were younger than 35 years old. “As attractiveness plays less of a role, perhaps relative weight has less of an effect on satisfaction.”


Speaking of benign, I don’t really know that this story told us anything we didn’t already “know” in an unspoken way: men care more about their partner’s weight than women do. Is that residual from the 50s era of the “Honey, I’m home!” man with his bread baking (and bon bon-eating) wife? Probably. Is it funny that it’s only “relative weight,” in that she only has to be smaller than her husband? Damn straight. As the commenter said above, “you only have to be smaller than your mate!”

Here’s what’s annoying about this, to me. I can understand saying “marriages are happier when…” and thinking you have the tools to prove your assertion. However, the spin on this is hilarious… and awesome. What would this study look like if it said “marriages are happier when the husband weighs more than the wife, because the wife feels more protected, safe and secure in her husband’s care?” The authors of the study saw their findings and immediately went to the wife’s weight, as opposed to the husband’s. Why? If there’s not something specific in the study that lends to that, does the spin not reflect upon the biases that the author of the study might have?

Oh, and about 94% of the study’s participants being white. Is 94% of the population white? No? Oh.

Putting the “study” and its findings aside, I do believe the theory about communication is a big point, regardless of how the study arrived at that conclusion. It’s a point of contention: one partner starts to feel insecure, doesn’t communicate that insecurity to their mate, that insecurity starts to affect their contributions to the relationship in other ways that affect the happiness of their partner in greater forms, the relationship starts to collapse. It’s pretty simple. How often do we hear about the husband who starts feeling insecure about his ability to provide for his struggling family, doesn’t talk about it with his wife, and then rectifies his insecurity by getting another woman on the side to try to make himself feel better? Y’know, because he feels so bad about his inability to provide, that he can’t possibly sleep with his wife anymore?

Or the wife who, because of age, starts to put on weight and doesn’t understand it; starts to feel insecure about her body; feels disgusted by the thought of being naked with her husband and, in turn, decides to make herself feel better by drowning her sorrows in a bowl of ice cream whenever she starts to feel bad?

Maybe because I spent soooooo much time celibate, I have a little bit of a different opinion on relationships that involve actual commitment. Not just the boo-thangs that are hangin’ around and keeping us “busy,” but the ones you commit to for the long haul. Why not trust your partner to talk to them about your insecurities and help them build you up? I mean, it might seem like a bad thing to be insecure, but it’s an even worse thing to let a wound fester to the point where it evolves into an infection… and who better to trust than the person who is committed to loving you and staying in your life? Who could be more invested in you building your self-esteem than the person who’s going to have to handle the immediate effects of you not having any?

What am I getting at? A few years ago, I asked the readers if anyone in their family was allowed to bring their weight to their attention, and a LOT of the answers I received sounded an awful lot like “hell naw!” But is that a result of an insecurity about one’s body, and if so, who better to trust to talk about it than the people closest to you… the people who are most affected by our insecurities? There was a great suggestion to use open-ended questions that don’t require simple “yes” or “no” answers. What about that?

Or are we still scared to communicate our issues as they involve weight? Thoughts?

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By | 2017-06-10T11:44:13+00:00 July 3rd, 2014|Social Construct|22 Comments

About the Author:

The proud leader of the #bgg2wlarmy, Erika Nicole Kendall writes food and fitness, body image and beauty, and more here at #bgg2wl. After losing over 150lbs, Kendall became a personal trainer certified in fitness nutrition, women's fitness, and weight loss by the National Academy of Sports Medicine. She is also certified in sports nutrition by Precision Nutrition. She now lives in New York with her husband and children, and is working on her 6th and 7th certifications because she likes having alphabet soup at the end of her name.


  1. Serenity July 19, 2011 at 9:36 AM - Reply

    When you say smaller, do you mean thinner or shorter. My guy is 6’4″ and I am nearly 5’4″ and that makes him way taller, but I weigh a tad more than he does (yeah he is skinny due to a ridiculous metabolism) so…… Bump it. We are happy!

    • Erika Nicole Kendall July 19, 2011 at 9:57 AM - Reply

      I think they mean smaller in weight, but this study feels like bunk to me, anyway. LOL

      • nadia June 20, 2013 at 5:21 PM - Reply

        Sorry- but I agree with the study. Further, I believe that there is a threshold weight at about when a woman would wear a size 8- above which men become dissatisfied even if they are not totally consciously aware. It manifests itself as discontent about things like the proverbial “toilet paper”. That threshold may be a bit higher for men who are more working class than say, upper middle class but it is still there… Weight counts for way more than men are comfortable admitting and so we keep operating under the myth that it does not really count but it does. I see it all the time. I believe a guy will freely and willingly “date” a variety of sizes but if you are over a certain size, a serious relationship or marriage becomes further and further out of your reach. I think there are very few men who would admit this but to me, it is the truth… and I believe that it is probably part of their hard-wiring as well…

  2. Tatiana July 19, 2011 at 10:24 AM - Reply

    Personally, I prefer to not share my body insecurities with my family. They don’t really get it and I find it difficult to talk about problems when my family is constantly talking about how fat they themselves are. I confided to my mother about my depression and self-hate and the response was less than stellar. I’m also generally reluctant to talk about my problems with people who might feel compelled to “help” me. If you’re not a therapist, or somehow managed to overcome what I’m going through, please don’t try to help me.

    Honestly, I just prefer people listen to me instead of trying to rescue me. Which is why it’s easier to tell complete strangers or therapists that I’m ugly and hate my body. They’re not as emotionally involved with me and I prefer it that way. And I prefer friends who don’t try to force their ideas about self-image or self-acceptance on me.

    I definitely prefer an emotional and mental space where I can hate myself and not have people jump on me because of my mentality. Just give me some space to breathe dammit!


    • Erika Nicole Kendall July 19, 2011 at 10:57 AM - Reply

      Out of curiosity,

      “I definitely prefer an emotional and mental space where I can hate myself and not have people jump on me because of my mentality.”

      Why? Do you not want to change? Do you want to change on your own and, if so, do you not want to know what resources are available out there that might help you?

      I mean, I can understand not wanting to appear weak to your peers, but I’m sayin’… we all need to remember that no one is 24/7-strong-like-bull… and while we remember that when people open up to us, we need to remember that for ourselves when we open up to others. 🙁

      • Tatiana July 19, 2011 at 11:32 AM - Reply

        I never really thought about it that way. I guess for me, I don’t have the body I want and I can’t get it without surgery. And the reasons I’ve tried to find for enjoying my body by frequenting forums or talking to other people haven’t really helped me.

        So I’ve come to a place where I work on accepting that I’m not attractive versus trying to convince myself that I am.

        And in all the times I’ve opened up to people – in real life – I have generally regretted it. I haven’t really found it to be helpful, and no one who I have met has connected me to any resources. Also – because of the way that I look, people don’t really understand why I would hate my body. I’m petite and small breasted and it makes me want to die. But since we live in a thin obsessed culture, I find people just say, “People starve themselves/etc to look like you!” and I feel ignored and marginalized.

        So I keep my opinions about myself to myself – at least in real life. :]

        • Kris January 21, 2013 at 2:34 AM - Reply

          You my dear need a real friend, they are hard to find. I pray you are blessed with one who will just listen and help you in the way you need help. I am not a therapist but I am a woman who has had similar issues- depression and self image insecurities. My self image still at times is a sore spot but only in ways I CAN change(weight- employment status – finances- organization). I had issues with my complexion and looks as a young girl- it was then that my Mother (RIP) helped me to see the beauty from within that no supermodel could ever compare and that beauty is ageless and timeless. I just wanna give you a hug ((hug)) – we all have issues that we dont think others understand. Admitting that you can not solve your own issues is not weak it is strong, researching, seeking and accepting help is ROCKSTAR STRONG! – Self hatred is not what we were designed to do it happens but we MUST fight against it! PLEASE FIGHT IT! Be a ROCKSTAR!!

  3. bridget July 19, 2011 at 11:46 AM - Reply

    “In Africa, weight is a sign of fertility and voluptuousness. Heavier women are prized in that culture.”

    THAT culture? All those 50 some nations and billions of people share the same culture? I love whack studies that make unfounded claims and generalizations as much as the next person….but flawed studies that tack on a thoughtlessly-worded, baseless speculation on a whole continent they didn’t even study? Speechless.

    • Stefanie September 12, 2011 at 11:19 AM - Reply

      I’m moving to Africa!!! LOL LOL…seriously, I am so excited about going to my ancestors’ home.

    • Nthena October 21, 2011 at 3:51 AM - Reply

      Thank you Bridget! I am African woman living in Africa who has struggled with weight all my life. I hate generalizations like this and the media do it to us all the time. The ideal is changing fast especially if you live in a city and are middle class or higher. We read the same magazines, watch the same T.V shows and have the same insecurities about being fat vs thin, Light vs Dark skinned. Of course just like anywhere else in the world its different for people in different parts of the country and in different countries within Africa.

      Thank you Erika for this Blog where we can all come and celebrate our differences!

  4. Amy July 19, 2011 at 11:48 AM - Reply

    “Oh, and about 94% of the study’s participants being white. Is 94% of the population white? No? Oh.”

    Bet you 10 dollars that most of them came from the same economic class too. Maybe even the same general area of the city and similar backgrounds in education. And well, I’m sure there are many women (and men) in their 30’s and 40’s who would argue that attractiveness most certainly does not become less important after 35.

    That said, these studies are a dime a dozen, and I think the point you make about how the data is interpreted is the most important one. But then again, how unique is the idea that many women are happier to be with a man that is in some way larger than she is and vice versa? I’d be surprised if that idea hadn’t already been studied. So I guess you can just flip the question and get another paper out of it, even if it does seem to put unnecessary blame onto the wife for challenges in her relationship.

  5. Trenia July 19, 2011 at 4:12 PM - Reply

    I think this study would’ve made more sense if they had a larger sample size and if the couples were older. While I think studies like this one are bogus, generally speaking, it does point out something about contemporary culture: one’s willingness, or lack thereof, to stay committed to a partner when things about them or circumstances change. Do we have to start adding to our marriage vows “I’ll love you for as long as you stay within 15lbs of your wedding day weight”? And what about people who are injured or paralyzed, soldiers coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan come to mind. What of those marriages?

    In terms of getting “help” from family members and others, sometimes you have to just sit and be with whatever your issue is for a while before anything can change. Half the battle is just telling your truth out loud and acknowledging it, but sometimes when people try to “help” they don’t always understand.

  6. AnnT July 19, 2011 at 8:14 PM - Reply

    Weight was probably measured for the women since our weight fluctuates with child birth and generally having less muscle mass than men.

  7. Maaleka Jones September 12, 2011 at 8:51 AM - Reply

    As a woman who is married to a great man I find this article to only apply to the “thought” of being thinner than your husband. I personally don’t have a BMI that is lower than my husband and I do struggle with the “feeling” of being sexy in the bedroom. I am a black woman and he is a black man and to be quite honest my husband doesn’t have a problem with my weight I do! It does affect me being naked in a room but what matters most is how I see myself. Weight has always been a number to my family if your this weight than guess what “your perfect”. BMI to me is another number and to be honest I have never been that perfect number either. This article is not something I would read from day to day because I as a woman standing 4’9 having 4 kids (this normally puts me outside instantly) do not match up to the numbers game. My husband has always told me I am beautiful naked or dressed. I do agree that we should share our insecurities with our family and husbands but I also know from being married that every husband does not have the “gift” of just listening and not wanting to “help” or “solve”. This is an art that my husband has learned over the years of “honey just let me vent”. Sometimes I have found myself in a room alone saying “why does this matter right now”? My husband is happy so why can’t I be that way? This article is not the final word to me and I am not at the “perfect number”. Working toward “My” number is the key and there is a difference. I would say over the years of having kids and my weight going up my husband has watched and held my hand through everything. Sometimes that’s all we women need so I would give just a little advice that I know to be true “say what you need and not what you think he wants to hear”. Say how you feel and respect that he will have a response for you. Your weight is “yours” but if your not happy with it than its time to know deep down inside your happiness does affect everyone who loves you!

    I find this site to be refreshing in everyway.
    Thank you so much for allowing me to share.
    Maaleka Jones

  8. Stefanie September 12, 2011 at 11:25 AM - Reply

    For me personally, as a full-figured woman, I have met many guys who are much smaller than me (in body size) and while they think big sexy is what I like, I DON’T. I was out taking a walk last week around a neighborhood, and this guy walks past me and says ‘I like em big and thick.’ I said ‘well, I’m like this now, but I am working to get healthier, thank you.’ He kept on walking. It’s weird for me to see women who are significantly larger than their mates and vice versa. However, I think to each its’ own. Everyone has preferences, and as long as one is happy, then it doesn’t matter which mate is smaller or larger. I’m single right now, but I think I would be more comfortable as a woman if my husband where close to my body size or slightly larger. I hope that made sense….

  9. Stefanie September 12, 2011 at 11:27 AM - Reply

    “The great take-home message from our study is that women of any size can be happy in their relationships with the right partner. ”


  10. Estella November 11, 2011 at 11:20 PM - Reply

    Well, if I ws to truly take this “study” into consideration, then only God himself could help me! My husband is 6’0 and MAYBE 140 lbs after eating a heavy lunch… MAYBE. I am 5’11 and 185 lbs. He is so slender that i would have to probably be anorexic to be “smaller” than he is. I’m currently trying to drop some lbs, but even then, my goal weight is 165, not 140 or anywhere near that!

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