The Social Aftermath of Bariatric Surgery: Coping with Changes in Friendships and Family Dynamics

Impacts of Bariatric Surgery on Relationships 

Research tells us that bariatric surgery-induced weight loss can impact the dynamic of close interpersonal relationships. For a single person, losing a significant amount of weight means they are statistically more likely to find a partner. For married people or those already in a relationship who have bariatric surgery, the research reports an increased incidence of separation and divorce.

Sometimes the partner of a patient may perceive weight loss as a threat to the relationship and be afraid of a change in the status quo. They may fear a loss of power in a previously dependent relationship or the new options that may be available for the patient to leave the relationship when they are more confident and attracting more attention from the opposite sex (depending on their sexual preference).

WLSA Impacts of Bariatric Surgery on Relationships

People’s relationships can change after bariatric surgery as the patient becomes more confident in themselves and empowered to take charge of their own life. They may have a sense of having more agency within their own lives to make decisions for themselves and feel freer to be their authentic selves. However, research tells us that poor family relationships prior to surgery are the strongest predictor for the increased incidence of separation and divorce. Weight loss isn’t usually the root cause of separation. When the patient starts to feel better emotionally, physically, and psychologically, they may look at improving other areas of their lives. They may have the confidence to address any relationship problems, unhappiness, or dysfunction in the relationship, or end it completely.

Qualitative studies show that a sense of a “joint journey” between couples is important in the success of a bariatric surgery journey and in maintaining a healthy relationship. I’m always pleased to see a partner accompany a patient to their initial meetings with the team because any fears they may have are usually calmed when they meet the team and are included in discussions. It’s important for couples to have conversations about their fears and expectations with each other and the team. It helps to focus on the physical and health benefits of the surgery and what those benefits can bring to your life and future. In healthy relationships, most people want only the best of health for each other. 

WLSA Bariatric Surgery Coping with Changes in Friendships and Family Dynamics

For many patients, the changes experienced with Bariatric surgery are positive and have a positive impact on all areas of their lives including their close relationships. Changes in relationships aren’t always bad and couples can build closer connections as their lives get richer with new vitality and enthusiasm for life. It’s important for couples to understand and discuss how to address these changes, and this can lead to a deepening in their relationship as they share this life-changing journey together.

Leslie Hartley
WLSA Bariatric Psychologist