TODAY   |  January 24, 2013

Study: Mixed-weight couples fight more

Carrying a few extra pounds can be unhealthy for an individual, but a recent study featured in The Wall Street Journal found it can be unhealthy for relationships, too; couples in which only one partner is overweight reported more arguments. NBC’s Mara Schiavocampo reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> we are back now at 8:10 with a fresh take on the struggle to lose weight , a new study featured in the " wall street journal " shows carrying a few extra pounds is not only unhealthy for individuals but couples too. mire ra is here to explain that. good morning.

>> good morning. any who has ever struggled with their weight knows it can creep into every aspect of life, including relationships. when one partner is overweight, the other is not, it can lead to fights, awkward moments at the dinner table and even interfere with intimacy.

>> pancakes?

>> reporter: weight, it can loom large in a relationship, especially when only one-half of the couple is fighting the battle of the budge. in a new study researchers found so-called mixed weight couples where only one person is overweight have more conflict than same weight couples arguing about everything from food choices to fitness to sloppy clothes.

>> more anger, more arguing, more resentment. of those mixed weight couples with more conflict where the man was thin and woman was heavy they had the most conflict.

>> reporter: like so many, rene watching her weight and doesn't help her husband, adam either whenever he wants.

>> he orders a hot dog and he really pushes my button, you want a salad, right, honey?

>> for today's internal challenge, i want, too, i want to have what he's having. why can't i? more of a strain on me. i get annoyed and he feels badly because he can have whatever he wants.

>> reporter: for some couples it goes far beyond minor irritations. added weight can put a strain on riches from sex to communication. for these two, it even interfered with their quality time together before she lost 55 pounds.

>> it was stressful because she didn't really want to do a lot of the things we had done before.

>> you don't feel like you, you know, look good either to yourself or to your spouse. it really puts a heavy cloud on the things you want to do.

>> reporter: alishia says james helped her lose the weight through encouragement, not criticism.

>> you have to figure out how you can let your partner help you and not get angry at them. that's the hardest part. if you do it as a team, the person who's overweight feels supported.

>> when we cook together, it's more fun together, we make better choices together.

>> reporter: shedding pounds and some weight on the relationship.

>> researchers say they don't know which comes first in a relationship, conflict or weight gain because the cycle often feeds itself when relationship stress leads to eating and more stress.

>> thank you. betsy and her husband resolved conflicts in their marriage but not before a lot of frustration. betsy has written a book about it called "finished being fat." good morning to both of you. you are obviously a success story. you lost 75 pounds in ten months. before a lot of that happened, there was a lot of strain in your marriage. can you describe the dynamic?

>> yeah. something i also describe in the book i call fat goggles, like beer goggles except with fat. everything revolved around weight, whether i was gaining or losing, what we could eat, do together, whether i would let him touch me because i was afraid secretly he was disgusted or not want to go out because he was embarrassed by me.

>> on your part, what is a partner supposed to do? you might want to encourage her to eat better or exercise. i can see that might set you off, too, if you're feeling bad.

>> it's really difficult. it's really hard to encourage somebody to eat healthier without that coming off as nagging and being -- making her feel worse about her choices. if i'm saying, well j let's skip dessert or maybe we shouldn't order that dessert she's automatically going to feel bad about that and focus on her weight and self-image.

>> i know you say you got married during what you call your skinny period and you said you put on some weight by the wedding and put on a whole lot of weight by your five year variance. this got very serious. you contemplated divorce, as i understand it?

>> yes. i wanted a way out. i figured maybe if i could escape, i could be somebody else because nobody would know me and try again and maybe successful that time. i was tired of feeling unloved and broken and thought maybe that was the way out.

>> i know you tried to help along the way and you love your wife, but we're going to out you. you had a couple of sentences i think you said you have not lived down to this day. one time, when she was trying to spice things up, you said, i guess you're one of those people who looks better in clothes. another time, you said, maybe you should wear something different before you go out. we tease you a little bit. it's difficult sometimes to know the right thing to say.

>> it's very difficult. yes. the one time in particular i opened my mouth without thinking and regretted it ever since. that was a tough thing with what cloths she would wear because when she was heavier, she didn't feel like dressing up and putting on nice clothes. she wanted to wear things with elastic waistbands and things easier to wear and felt like she was hiding the weight when it was maybe making her look worse.

>> you guys are a success story. let's give advice here. what is the key piece of advice from your perspective?

>> from my perspective, you have to focus on not just on the outside but inside and on that negative little voice that tells you, you can't - - you're fat. no matter what your spouse is or other people may say, i guarantee the person who's heavy says so much worse things to themselves and you need to stop that dialogue.

>> from your perspective, what's the best piece of advice?

>> i was diagnosed with diabetes and i learned i had to watch what i would eat, too, and that gave me new sympathy for her and ability to relate to some of that and it's better to make those decisions about eating together and not have one person eating all the food.

>> it's great to talk to you both. i know it's difficult to talk about those issues. we really appreciate you being here. a lot of people can relate. appreciate it.