How a Relationship Is Like Dieting
There is both weight loss and weight maintenance in relationships.
Posted July 1, 2022 | Reviewed by Davia Sills
- As with dieting, a healthy relationship consists of shedding bad habits and learning to keep them off.
- Just like most people need to work at staying trim, most couples need to constantly work at keeping their relationship healthy.
- A marital diet based on criticism is as unhealthy as a food diet based on sugar and fat.
Like so many of my blog posts, the idea for this one came from my clients’ spontaneous statements. The first statement I heard one woman say was: “Couples’ therapy is like dieting: As soon as you stop, your relationship goes back to what it was.” Another woman said, “A relationship is like being thin—it requires work.”
Both of these statements made by women (who are usually more relationally aware and more conscious of weight than most men) point to one indisputable fact: Relationships require work to be in optimal condition. Just like it’s a very rare individual who can mature into old age at their high school graduation weight without conscious work, so too is it a very rare couple who can make it to their 50th anniversary intact and awake and connected without constantly working on their relationship. Where do we get the notion that it could be otherwise?
How come we can’t just “live happily ever after”?
That sounds so simple and so inviting, like the promise of forever love, youth, and beauty that seems so accessible on our wedding day. This question will have to wait for the philosophers. I’m here simply to tell you the obvious: Like dieting, relationships require both weight loss and weight maintenance.
Weight loss in relationships is like what happens when you come into couple’s therapy. Just as one day you get on the scale and are shocked at the number and spurred to take action, something happens in your relationship when the nagging doubts and worries are tipped into “I’ve got to do something about this, because it’s not going to change on its own.” You pick up the phone or click on the link to the couple’s therapist whose name and website have been sitting in your inbox for months.
Just as dieting usually introduces a major change in behavior, a giving up of bad eating habits, so, too, does couple’s therapy require a change in how you relate to your partner. You simply cannot criticize your partner and have a good relationship, any more than you can live on whipped cream and candy and stay at a healthy weight. Just like only you can take responsibility for what you put in your mouth, only you can take responsibility for what comes out of it when speaking to your partner.
Let’s say the couple’s therapy is successful and you don’t want to stay in couple’s therapy for the rest of your marriage. Dieting, too, can be successful, and you can get to at or near your goal weight. But part of the success of dieting and couple’s therapy is that it is a short-term process. Just like the tricky part is keeping the weight off, so, too, is learning to transition from the safety of regular meetings with a couple’s therapist to the more important skill of learning to navigate your marriage in a healthy way on your own.
It’s all about developing good habits.
Regularly push yourself to share yourself vulnerably; regularly spend time together; always always always watch how you speak to each other. I teach my couples a particular tool called the intentional dialog, and for my couples, it is about learning to use this tool at home, on their own, both when there’s conflict and when there’s not. I am most comfortable saying goodbye to my couples when they have navigated conflict successfully on their own. It’s the equivalent of learning to manage their food intake during the holiday season and keep their diet intact.