“Does this make me look fat?” How the things partners tell each other about their bodies affects their self confidence

Kaitlyn Goldsmith, B.A. (Hons.), Ph.D. Candidate

Have you complimented your partner’s looks recently? Maybe you had an unfortunate blunder when your partner asked, “Does this make me look fat?” Maybe you haven’t said anything directly, but your tone of voice or gestures were loud and clear?!  (Translation:  “Uhhhh, yeah, sure does.”)

Do these little everyday things that partners say about one another’s bodies actually have an impact? What really happens when your significant other says something negative (or positive) about your body? Could these messages have an impact on your sex life? These were the questions that lead us to ask 35 men and 57 women about the messages they have received from their romantic partners about their bodies and how they feel those messages have affected them.  These men and women wrote about the most memorable messages about their bodies they had received from their partner.

Here’s what we found:

·      The good news is that every single person reported receiving at least one positive message about their body… run-of-the-mill compliments, sexy compliments, comments that challenged negative beliefs about themselves

·      Men and women typically received messages non-verbally, through body language and tone of voice (who knew!?)

·      Most felt these messages had a positive impact on their body image AND their sex life. They felt more sexually confident, empowered, and fulfilled

·      Although fewer men and women reported receiving negative messages (both verbally and non-verbally), these messages were linked to reduced body confidence AND less sexual satisfaction

·      Most striking?  Both men and women reported fairly ordinary, sometimes seemingly neutral, messages having a big impact on their confidence and sex lives

So be careful! 

If you have a partner, why not make an effort to help them feel sexy? Dish out those compliments! Ask if you’ve hurt their feelings with a comment or action! You never know, it may even improve your sex life


For full article:

Goldsmith, K. M., & Byers, E. S. (2016). Perceived impact of body feedback from romantic partners on young adults’ body image and sexual well-being. Body Image, 17, 161-170.

Do digital technologies compromise intimacy and relationship quality? No! They seem to make relationships better!

Lucia F. O'Sullivan, Ph.D.

In a recent study, Andrea Boyle and Lucia O’Sullivan had 359 young adults (18-24 years) report in detail about their technology use when communicating with friends, families, and dating partners. Our interest was really about the dating partners and whether communicating a little or a lot using digital technologies during the course of the day would replace face-to-face communication or supplement it (that is, make it better). 

Participants rated how much and what type they had disclosed intimate (such as, “You know what really turns me on…?”) vs. non-intimate information (such as, “I’m finished with that book I borrowed if you need it back”) over the prior three days, as well as relationship intimacy and communication quality.  It turns out that any self-disclosure (even the non-intimate type) is good for relationship quality, and as you might guess, positive as compared to negative (complaining, whining, critical of self, partner or others) communications were really important to relationship quality. 

Also important to note:  Those who used a lot of digital technology to communicate with their partners (e.g., texting tons each day) still had as much face-to-face communication as those who didn’t use digital communication all that much.  Use of these technologies to send messages back and forth just added to the communication quotient overall—it wasn’t a way to avoid or escape seeing each other, as many in the media have worried. 

We concluded that digital technologies provide opportunities for partners to stay connected through the day and truly help to improve the overall quality of their intimacy and communication—as long as you keep it positive folks!