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Thinner Wife, Happier Marriage

• January 12, 2011 • 2:00 PM

Researchers find marriages tend to be more satisfying for both spouses when the wife is thinner than the husband.

Ladies: Are you nervously watching your weight to stay attractive for your husband or boyfriend? Well, put down those salad forks. It turns out you don’t have to starve yourself — unless he’s doing so, too.

A study just published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science finds a correlation between weight (as measured by body mass index, or BMI) and marital satisfaction. But the key variable is the relationship between the spouses’ BMIs.

It seems a couple is more likely to experience marital bliss when the wife is at least somewhat thinner than her husband.

A research team led by University of Tennessee psychologist Andrea Meltzer followed 165 newlywed couples for four years. The couples, most in their mid- to late-20s, filled out questionnaires every six months to measure their level of marital satisfaction.

The trends over time were clear. “Husbands were more satisfied at the time of marriage, and remained more satisfied over time, to the extent that their wives had lower BMIs than their own,” the researchers report.

“Wives who had lower BMIs than their husbands remained more satisfied over time,” they add, “whereas wives who had higher BMIs than their husbands demonstrated steeper declines in their satisfaction over time.”

This held true even after researchers controlled for several factors that could skew the results, including income, education and levels of depression. What’s more, they were independent of the partners’ actual weight. Extra pounds did not prove to be a problem, so long as hubby was slightly more chubby.

Meltzer and her colleagues believe their findings reflect a difference in priorities between men and women. “Several studies indicate that partner thinness is more important to men than to women, possibly because BMI is more strongly correlated with women’s physical attractiveness than it is with men’s,” they write.

“In contrast, because partner BMI is relatively less important to women, relative BMI may affect them only through its effect on men,” they add. “That is, women who have lower BMIs than their partners should maintain higher levels of satisfaction with the relationship because their partners are more satisfied.”

This leads to an intriguing question: Is there an equivalent spousal-satisfaction factor that works the other way, which women care about deeply and men not so much? The answer will have to await further research.

In the meantime, these results may help in the treatment of women with eating disorders. If they’ve internalized the belief that they’ll never be loved unless they’re fashion-model skinny, this data provides strong contradictory evidence.

“Educating women about these findings may alleviate the pressures to be extremely thin that plague women today,” the researchers conclude. Women of any size can be happy in their relationships, they write, “if they find the right partner.”

In other words, size matters — but everything is relative.

 

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Tom Jacobs
Staff writer Tom Jacobs is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years experience at daily newspapers. He has served as a staff writer for The Los Angeles Daily News and the Santa Barbara News-Press. His work has also appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and Ventura County Star.

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