Kathy and Robert* met in college when both were aspiring actors sharing a passion for the stage—and each other. Though Kathy thought of Robert, 30, at 340 pounds as overweight, the chemistry between them was still intense. Often their best communication was physical affection. After two years of being inseparable, the couple decided to study abroad in Moscow as part of an international curriculum. Under the combined pressure of demanding school schedules, financial problems and an unfamiliar social scene, they began to drift apart. When they returned to the United States a few months later, the sexual dynamic between them had changed dramatically. In spite of their dwindling desire, they moved in together but began living like strangers. Kathy, 26, threw herself into work, resuming her focus on her acting career. Robert, a part-time actor and screenwriter, spiraled into depression and began to overeat compulsively, ballooning up to 380 pounds. Kathy and Robert still hope one day to recapture the love and intimacy they once shared, but neither knows where to start.
“When Kathy and I first met, we couldn’t keep our hands off each other. But in the last year, things have changed so much between us. It has been three months since Kathy and I had sex, partly because she sets mandatory parameters for our lovemaking: foreplay, caressing and cuddling—in that order! Sometimes I want us to just enjoy the moment, but we never seem to be ready, willing or interested at the same time. The other part of the problem is me. I’ve been using my food addiction to fill the intimacy void, among other issues I’ve been working through.
“A few months ago I had a wake-up call. I thought I was having a heart attack, but it turned out to be acid reflux. It was a turning point that forced me to reevaluate my entire life. I began working with an eating-disorder specialist and started a weight loss regimen. I’ve lost 30 pounds so far.
“Even though I am working toward becoming healthier, I’m still uncomfortable in my own skin. I want to please Kathy, but sometimes I just don’t want to be touched. It’s so hard to be intimate when you’re carrying this much weight. “Kathy needs and deserves assurance, tenderness, love, care and attention. I have been working so hard on myself, and I don’t know how to include her. I still see my future with her, but we’ve fallen out of touch. The other day I made an effort to kiss her and felt myself holding back. But at this point that’s all I can give.”
“When I first met Robert, I knew he was going to be in my life for a long time. We shared the same sensibilities and ideals. But now we’ve lost our emotional and physical connection. When I push for a change of scenery, he puts a damper on my enthusiasm because he never wants to leave the house. I love to dance, but that’s totally out of the question. We rarely do anything together except eat and watch movies because of his weight.
“Even though I was never judgmental about Robert’s physical appearance, I was completely turned off when he started binge eating. Even worse, when we stopped kissing and hugging altogether, I began to feel so alone. It’s like I’m living with my brother instead of my lover. We sleep back-to-back. I can’t even remember the last time we had sex.
“Now that Robert is losing weight, I’m happy for him. But his insecurities about his body make it difficult for us to behave like a young couple. I understand that Robert’s happiness is tied to his weight loss goals right now. But where does that leave me in the meantime?”
*Names have been changed.
AN EXPERT’S OPINION
By Audrey B. Chapman
Robert and Kathy are short on soft loving. This is the type of love that involves comfort, support, understanding and empathy between partners. That missing emotional intimacy, in turn, can lead to a lack of sexual desire, and ultimately, a lost connection. They must nurture their friendship to rebuild the romance in their relationship.
GET BACK TO THE BASICS: Robert and Kathy should focus on their friendship more than their sex life until they can resolve their intimacy issues. They can revive the moments when they first fell in love. They can re-create their first date, talk for hours, or kiss without going further until they are ready for the next step.
OFFER A SHOULDER: Kathy should support Robert in his weight loss efforts with positive reinforcement. For instance, they can try out healthy recipes and prepare these meals together or go for long walks as part of an exercise program. This will allow Kathy to feel included as they work to reach Robert’s weight loss goals.
CREATE NEW INTIMACY: They should think outside the box when they do start to reintroduce romance into the relationship. They can give each other massages or share candlelit bubble baths. Kathy needs to open herself up to being sexually spontaneous.
GET HEALTHY: Individual and couples therapy will build Kathy’s and Robert’s self-confidence. Over time, a counselor will be able to help them recall their long-lost intimacy.