There’s an old cliché that no one can love you until you love yourself. While this may be an oversimplification, an individual’s relationship with themselves can definitely play a role in their relationships with others. A study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships suggests that dissatisfaction with one’s own body is related to dissatisfaction in one’s romantic relationships.
Many people struggle with negative body image, which can be very harmful and lead to serious negative outcomes, such as disordered eating. Romantic relationships have the potential to either help or hurt a person’s self-image. Trust and support from a partner may benefit one’s relationship with their own body, while criticism from a partner could be detrimental and increase dissatisfaction.
Past research has been mixed on the relationship between negative body image and relationship quality. This study seeks to better understand this relationship by utilizing a meta-analysis to synthesize the past research on this topic.
Dana L. Stiles and colleagues included 56 studies from 43 articles in their meta-analysis, which included an overall sample size of 10,353 individuals. They included studies that measured relationships between negative self-evaluation of one’s body and relationship satisfaction or quality. Only studies that utilized quantitative analyses were eligible to be included. Correlational relationships were utilized and studies that did not include effect size were excluded.
Results showed that people with increased body dissatisfaction reported lower quality of relationships. This association is moderated by BMI in that when people had higher BMI’s, body dissatisfaction was less likely to lead to a decrease in relationship satisfaction. This could have been due to people with high BMI’s being underrepresented in the samples or potentially could have been due to people with higher BMI’s being less influenced by societal pressure due to the body positivity movement.
“If folks with a higher BMI were less concerned with the overarching society’s standards of body size and shape, they may have a higher willingness to show intimacy in close relationships, which could be associated with higher relationship quality,” the researchers said.
While relationship length was not a significant moderator, both gender and sexuality were. Females showed a stronger relationship between negative body self-perception and lower relationship quality than males did. The researchers noted that “women appear to experience a variety of internal and external pressures that men do not that influence feelings concerning their body and their romantic relationships.”
This study took important steps into understanding the direction of the relationship between body dissatisfaction and relationship quality. Despite this, there are limitations to note. One such limitation is that with meta-analysis, the research synthesized carries any limitations from each individual study. Additionally, this study only utilized body dissatisfaction and relationship satisfaction; future research should look into body satisfaction and sexual satisfaction as related but distinct constructs.
“As work continues to explore the intersectionality of body image and romantic relationships, it is crucial to review and summarize the current research to provide a clear framework from which to explore new associations and effects,” the researchers concluded. “Overall, this meta-analysis provides a comprehensive quantitative summary of the association between body dissatisfaction and relationship satisfaction.”
The study, “Body dissatisfaction and romantic relationship quality: A meta-analysis“, was authored by Dana L Stiles, Lijing Ma, Hannah F Fitterman-Harris, Eyad J Naseralla, and Cort W Rudolph.