Bariatric surgery can lead to greater intimacy between patients and their life partners and could impact how successful surgery is, according to a study looking at the experience of couples after one of the partners underwent weight loss surgery. The findings, ‘Following Bariatric Surgery: an Exploration of the Couples’ Experience’, are published in the journal Obesity Surgery.
The study by Mary Lisa Pories and colleagues from East Carolina University is thought to be the first on obesity’s impact on relationships since 2000, during which time surgical interventions, methods of support and the knowledge of the general public about bariatric surgery have evolved.
The research team interviewed ten couples about how bariatric surgery had affected the partners that had undergone surgery. All of the patients and their significant others viewed the surgery, and subsequent adjustments that needed to be made, as part of a team effort. They all described ways in which the partners supported and helped the patients care for themselves, including assistance with staying on track with the new routine.
“All of the couples felt their post-operative success was due to a joint effort on the part of both members of the couple,” said Pories. She explained that the importance placed on couples’ shared experiences of the surgery raises questions about how patients without active support systems manage post-operatively.
Several other themes also emerged. For example, couples highlighted the adjustment that was needed to adapt to their partners’ significant weight loss. The couples also had more energy, and needed to adjust to new eating habits.
On an emotional level, the couples reported more positive moods and better self-esteem. They also reported sharing greater intimacy and affection, and being better able to resolve conflict. Their sexual relationships also improved and, in many cases, became more enjoyable.
Pories believes that a better understanding of how bariatric surgery impacts the dynamics of a couple’s relationship could help physicians, nurses and social workers to support patients and their partners more effectively.
“This research provides greater insight into the experience of the couple than has been previously reported,” the authors concluded. “The use of qualitative research techniques offer new approaches to examine the biopsychosocial outcomes and needs of bariatric surgery patients. Further research is warranted in order to develop culturally appropriate interventions to improve the patient’s surgical and biopsychosocial outcomes.”