Big Changes: Bariatric Surgery, Marriage, and Divorce

It’s a phrase you hear often. Bariatric surgery changes lives. Certainly, it brings big changes in health status. But the changes go well beyond that. Changes in body image can bring big changes in relationships. Some are very positive. others very stressful. Any of them can come with the experience. Marriage, divorce, and pregnancy are a few examples people encounter after surgery.

Objective Observations

Though the details are complex, the numbers are straightforward. Marriage, divorce, and breakups become more likely after bariatric surgery. In one study last year, researchers studied the patterns of relationships in people who had surgery and compared them to similar people who did not.

Among people who were in a relationship, the odds of a separation or divorce increased by 28 percent. For people who were single, the odds of marriage or a new relationship doubled. Data on pregnancy is more sparse. What’s available is far from definitive. Nonetheless, researchers report “an impressive high incidence (58%) of infertile women who become spontaneously pregnant after surgery.”

A Human Reality

Setting aside the stats, Sirin Kale does a fine job of describing the human reality. Her reporting in the Guardian is especially heartening because it stands out.  In contrast, reporting on obesity from other British sources often tends toward being sensational and demeaning.

Kale describes a man whose marriage ended in divorce within two months of his surgery. He told her he’d make the same choice all over again – for his wife’s sake:

I would do it again just to give her that freedom and the option to end our codependent relationship, because it wasn’t working. I just wanted her to be happy.

Pam Davis, an expert in bariatric nursing and OAC board member, told us:

This is quite honestly the best article on relationships after surgery I’ve seen.

I always caution folks that relationships will change after surgery – family relationships, spouses, significant others, and friends. If you go in to surgery prepared with strong relationships, they tend to get stronger. Weak relationships tend to deteriorate.

Kudos to Kale and the Guardian. They’ve given us a genuine and very human picture of an important dimension to life-changing obesity treatment.

Click here for Kale’s excellent reporting.

Mail, photograph © Obesity Action Coalition / OAC Image Gallery

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June 19, 2019