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Is Bariatric Surgery a Risk Factor for Divorce

Woman pulling ring off of finger

It’s said that a bariatric surgeon’s job is as much a facilitator of psychological change as the physical. If that’s not the case, it certainly feels like it. This is because a patient’s responsibilities after surgery run the gamut of mental and physical. Some would say that the key to success is not necessarily how physically ready you may be; instead, how motivated and mentally prepared you are to start the bariatric process and change your life.

The same is true for your relationships after bariatric surgery. There’s no shortage of information about how you will feel after your surgical procedure and subsequent weight loss, but that also translates into your relationships. In many cases, patients change their life and lifestyle for the better. For those patients who are married or have significant others, this can be very intimidating for their partner. After all, the partner is used to the “old you,” and that person may no longer be there after surgery. Most patients become more social, confident, and willing to try new and exciting things after their procedure. On the other hand, partners may be firmly rooted in their routines.

While for most, this is resolved with a series of discussions of expectations, and for some with couples or marriage therapy, in some cases, the dynamics of the relationship change so drastically that divorce is seemingly the only alternative. While divorce rates may be higher in bariatric patients versus the general population, it’s unlikely to be the only reason for the dissolution of the marriage or partnership. More than likely, there were prior unaddressed marital issues, which become more apparent and or untenable as the patient becomes more confident.

There are a few ways patients can mitigate the risk of divorce or separation after weight loss surgery.

First, be sure to set expectations and boundaries early on. This can be a difficult conversation, made even more important if your spouse is only partially on board. Try to put yourself in their shoes. They may fear how you will change or might leave them behind after your surgery. Taking a minute to look at their perspective can make the conversation easier and less awkward. You can also bring your significant other to your seminar, if allowed, or have them watch an online seminar with you. This can give them some insight into why you made the decision, what they should expect after surgery, and the safety and effectiveness of the procedure. Remember that they will be part of your postop life; having them on board and supporting you is essential to maximize your results.

Consider couples therapy before surgery. Prevention is worth a pound of cure. Having difficult conversations in front of a therapist before surgery versus once there is a problem afterward can give you a conduit to understanding each other. It won’t be easy to have an unbiased and non-judgmental conversation, especially with someone we’ve known or lived with for so long. Having a third-party mediator of sorts can facilitate that.

Speak to your significant other’s family as well. While the relationship is between you and your partner, there’s no doubt that your partner’s family will have a say in how they feel about it. Helping them understand your decision can give you a leg up if your partner is less than supportive. Sometimes, having others advocate for you can get the point across better.

Write your thoughts on paper. It may be worth writing your thoughts and ideas if you find it challenging to communicate your feelings. First, this allows you to center and organize your thoughts, which can be scattered during significant changes like the one you are considering. You can also see your reasons, excitements, and frustrations right before you. Seeing them on paper will allow you to express your thoughts better and offer a better idea of whether bariatric surgery is right for you. It’ll even show any areas you need to work on before surgery.

Have them commit to joining you on the journey. This does not mean they have to have bariatric surgery, but if they can commit to the diet and exercise changes they will be doing after the surgery, you now have an invested partner. It will be difficult for them to keep up, but with proper diet and exercise, they will feel better mentally and physically and likely be more willing and accepting of your journey.

Of course, every relationship is different, and how you speak to your spouse is uniquely up to you. However, we want the postoperative changes in your life to be positive. After all, that’s why you’re doing surgery. While divorce or separation is a part of modern-day life, bariatric surgery or not, you can always rely on us and any mental health care professional you may see to guide you on managing your postop life and changes.

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