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Carolyn Hax: Helping fiance with weight problem

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Dear Carolyn:

My fiance and I have been together for five years. For the last few years, he has been struggling with a lot of stress trying to make money as an entrepreneur.

As a result, he has been gaining weight. I love him for who he is and want to spend the rest of my life with him, so I try not to make the weight a big deal. But I have been losing weight on a plan that he suggested but hasn’t maintained. He frequently binges on alcohol and food.

I’m excited about my weight loss and like to talk about it, but meanwhile he is feeling pretty worthless and has mentioned to me that he feels fat and unattractive. I don’t know what to say to him when he says that. I try to say, “I love you,” and let him know he’s fine, but the truth is, of course I would love to have him lose the weight. I think he sees through my attempts at diverting the subject and thinks I’m subconsciously calling him fat. I’m just not sure if there is anything I can do to assure him and make him feel better about himself. It is really starting to affect our intimacy and relationship because he doesn’t feel good enough for me. But he really is — he’s sweet, kind, generous, intelligent, supportive, funny, and I’m crazy about him. Is there anything I can do?

I Love You Just the Way You Are

You love him, yes, and “he’s fine” in the sense that you aren’t planning your exit over weight gain — but you are concerned that he’s ballooning, and you are undercutting any platitudes on his appearance with excited talk of your own weight loss.

And when people sense you’re not giving them the whole story — when they detect efforts to protect their feelings — they tend to feel worse about themselves, not better. It adds a sensation of weakness or neediness on top of whatever bad they already feel.

So, to help him feel better about himself, treat him as the equal he is. Ask vs. telling: “What can I do to help?” And, tell fuller truths, such as: Yes, his eating habits concern you, though the binge drinking is the only urgent problem. No, these concerns don’t diminish your feelings for him. Yes, you trust him to get healthier when the worst of the work stress has passed. Stress (and its mismanagement) is, after all, the real culprit here, a great argument for getting off the red-herring topic of weight. And, obviously, muting some of that glee over your own progress.

If this stress phase has a defined and imminent end, then you can hold a reassuring, “Career first, other stuff later” line that neither fakes comfort with his weight gain nor makes it a centerpiece.

If instead the stress is just part of life as his own boss, then you both have much bigger things to think about than his getting much bigger. Namely, at some point, you’ll need to articulate that your happiness with him is not in doubt, but his happiness with himself is — and ask whether it’s time to figure out, together, what each of you can do to change that.

Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@washpost.com. Subscribe at www.facebook.com/carolynhax.

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