My partner keeps telling me I’m fat. Is it really for my own sake?

I am a 30-year-old woman and for the past 10 years I’ve been in a relationship with a man 30 years older. I was much thinner when we first met and have since gained a little weight. My partner has started calling me fat, often pointing out that my hips are growing wider, that I eat too much, have a double chin, my stomach is flabby and so on.

When we met I was very conscious of my weight and I had low self-esteem about my looks. There was nothing wrong with my eating; I just weighed a bit less than the average. My partner encouraged me to have a more positive view, and it helped with my self-confidence. But since I started gaining weight a couple of years ago, he has been increasingly negative. I have told him it does not help that he calls me fat. He says he is not being disparaging, but wants to encourage me to exercise, lead a healthy lifestyle and eat moderately. He says I will be the one to suffer if I become fat because it will have an impact on my self-esteem and I will let myself go “like ugly middle-aged women with big thighs” (and I would not want to end up like that, would I?). He thinks he is telling me for my own sake as it will be bad for my mental health if I think I am fat.

I think my current weight is OK, e that I eat healthily. I could exercise more, but my partner insists io do so every day to keep fit (otherwise I am lazy). I have asked him to stop commenting on my weight, and sometimes he does for a while, but then starts ancora. The whole situation is making me feel bad about myself.

I’m not surprised you feel like that. So your partner doesn’t want you to end up thinking you’re fat, by telling you that you’re fat? That’s some twisted logic.

I wonder what is so frightening to your middle-aged boyfriend about a woman looking like a woman. How is he going to react when you get to middle age? What does he look like?

You sent me your measurements and even now you’ve put on weight, you are still very light. When you met, you must have had a very slight physique indeed. But what you weigh is not the total of who you are; and it’s not up to your boyfriend to police your weight, or your exercise.

You haven’t given me any other information about you or your wider life with your partner, so I’m not sure if he is a loving and caring boyfriend the rest of the time (e, to be clear, he would need to do a whole heap of loving and caring to make up for this behaviour). Or if he’s frankly a bit of an arse with a fixation on women shaped a certain way.

What struck me and psychotherapist Armele Philpotts was that you met him when you were 20 and he was nearly 50, and while of course love and respect can prosper with such an age gap, it could hint at a power imbalance and one that may now be shifting. Nel 10 years you’ve been together, “It sounds,” said Philpotts, “like you’ve done a lot of [psychological] growing and developing, and maybe this relationship has been helpful with that. There were certain things that brought you to this relationship when you were 20, but now you’re 30, I’m wondering what this relationship brings to enrich your life?"

Philpotts had some other questions for you, “because any kind of name-calling is emotionally abusive. Is this [the weight/exercise nagging] an isolated part of his behaviour or is it a tactic he uses in other contexts [to control you]? When you mention he ‘insists’ you take exercise every day, what form does that insistence take? What does your boyfriend tell you he loves about you? E, finally, if your best friend were behaving in this way, would you accept it?"

Not every woman wants to have children, and you might not, but if you do, how would he handle you getting pregnant and growing a belly?

I encourage you to read the Women’s Aid resources, which can help you see if you are in an abusive relationship. Both Women’s Aid and Refuge (0808 200 0247) also have trained counsellors who can talk you through things to keep you safe.

“Your boyfriend’s not listening to you,” Philpotts pointed out. “He stops commenting for a while, then starts again.”

You’ve asked him not to say certain things to you because they undermine your self-esteem, but he continues. I think it might be time to ask yourself what his motivation really is.

Every week Annalisa Barbieri addresses a family-related problem sent in by a reader. If you would like advice from Annalisa on a family matter, please send your problem to ask.annalisa@theguardian.com. Annalisa regrets she cannot enter into personal correspondence. Submissions are subject to our terms and conditions.

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