Objective: Prior research makes competing predictions regarding whether marital satisfaction is positively or negatively associated with weight gain. The health regulation model suggests that satisfying relationships facilitate the functions of marriage that promote health. Thus, spouses should be most likely to gain weight when either partner is less satisfied because marital strain causes stress that interferes with self-regulatory behaviors. The mating market model, in contrast, suggests that weight maintenance is motivated primarily by the desire to attract a mate. Thus, spouses should be least likely to gain weight when either partner is less satisfied because they should feel an increased need to attract a new mate. This longitudinal study of 169 newlywed couples evaluated each possibility.
Methods: Spouses completed measures of height, weight, marital satisfaction, stress, steps toward divorce, and several covariates biannually for 4 years.
Results: Supporting the mating market model, own and partner satisfaction were positively associated with changes in weight, and this association was mediated by steps toward divorce: Spouses who were less satisfied than usual or had partners who were less satisfied than usual were more likely to consider divorce and thus less likely to gain weight.
Conclusions: These findings challenge the idea that quality relationships always benefit health, suggesting instead that spouses in satisfying relationships relax their efforts to maintain their weight because they are no longer motivated to attract a mate. Interventions to prevent weight gain in early marriage may therefore benefit from encouraging spouses to think about their weight in terms of health rather than appearance.
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