August 4, 2008

Reader Challenge: David

A few days ago I got a comment on the post "Make Out With Your Wife" that I wanted to share with you all:

"What do you do with a wife who doesn't want to be intimate anymore because of how she looks. It's really hard to try to get her into "the mood" and whenever I make a run for it she slams the door in my face. Hopefully I'm not the only one going through this."

You are most definitely not the only husband going through this issue. A wife can be extremely sensitive about her looks, especially after her body's been through a few years and a couple of children. It's like since she doesn't think she's beautiful, there's no way on earth you could think she looks good.

One conversation I have had with my wife a few times is how her occasional bad self-image insults me. I have explained that I think she is beautiful, and that her insisting that she isn't is telling me that I don't know what beautiful looks like. I explain that I understand that she is frustrated that her face is breaking out, or that she's gaining some weight, but that she is still a beautiful woman.

Simply asking the question, "What can I help you do?" can be a lifesaver. Oftentimes this question leads to, "I really want to get back to working out" or "I need to layoff sweets this month." This doesn't give me the go-ahead for being her parole officer, but it does let me in on what she wants to do so I can encourage her in her efforts.

David, I really appreciate you asking this question, and now I want to challenge you to do something for all of us. I challenge you to sit down with your wife and talk to her about this issue. Even if you've done it before, try a different approach and do it again. I want you to express how you're feeling, and to seek to understand why your wife feels the way she does. Then I'd like you to post your experience here on in one week. Are you up to the challenge? If you have any questions, send me an e-mail using the "Contact Me" button in the right-hand column. I think this will be a great learning experience for us all.

A few conversation suggestions:

-Do not have this talk right after you have been rejected. You will be upset and she will be defensive. Ask her if you two can spend some time alone together at a certain time. Take a walk, or sit down at the kitchen table. Make sure there are no distractions. Turn off your cell phones.

-DO NOT USE the words "always" and "never." Saying "You always" will only put her on the defense.

-DO USE the phrase "I feel..." Using this phrase instead of saying "You make me" allows for her to hear the real issue at hand: your feelings. Say things like, "I feel hurt/confused/angry/frustrated." Or, using my personal example: "I feel like you are telling me that I don't know what beautiful looks like, and that hurts my feelings."

-Seek to understand her. She feels the way she does for a reason -- find out what that reason is. Ask her plainly, "Why do you feel this way about your body image?"

-Reaffirm your love for her. Before, during, and after, reaffirm your love for her. Thank her for listening to you. DO NOT use the phrase, "I can't take it anymore." Say instead, "I will always love you."

Good luck, David.


  1. Yes, Yes and Yes!
    AND- I'll add this.

    1. Celebrate her beauty and your love for her. A romantic dinner or night out, a gift... without attachment to the outcome (a tall order for a sexually frustrated guy, I know, but do your best).

    2. Sometimes help from outside the system is appropriate.
    For You - you are probably getting pretty frustrated, and maybe this is bringing up some raw stuff. Got any conscious guys to confide in? Talking to her about everything isn't always in service.
    For Her - her suffering self-image is bringing up core hurts for her, guaranteed. Sometimes you can be in deep service to her process (see: ) and sometimes she will benefit from working with a coach, therapist, pastor, consultant etc.

    There's definitely an opportunity in all this for you to ultimately build more strength and integrity in yourself, and closeness and intimacy in your relationship.

    Much Respect,
    Coach Justice

  2. I am dealing with this too, and have been ever since I met her. Particularly since she's had our son, my wife feels unlovely and unlovable. I try not to press, and I too have faced explaining to her that her belief that she's ugly in the face of my explicit adoration makes me out to be either stupid or a liar.

    I don't make a huge issue of it and try to put her on the defense, but it is very frustrating. I know that if she felt as beautiful as I see her, it would have a tremendous effect on her in helping her gain confidence enough to do more to improve her outward appearance the way she says she wants to.

    Every day, though, I tell her that I love her and that I'm attracted to her, and I show her in no uncertain terms. My hope is that one day my gentle approach will erode the walls and allow her permission to see herself as beautiful.

  3. A husband saying that his wife's poor self-image insults him, or makes him out to be stupid will probably shut down the lines of communication even more. It's not about you, it's about her.

    She knows you are frustrated with her and her insecurities, and it makes her feel even more unlovable. It's a vicious cycle that reinforces her poor self-image. (BTW, she's frustrated too.)

    Good conversation suggestions that you've posted!

  4. Dealing with this too. I've tried everything listed above, and more. When she's expressing frustration and disappointment with her view of herself, it's like handling a live grenade. Nothing you do can make it better, and a lot can make it worse.

    I've listened to the same "I need to do x, and once I do, I'll feel better about myself" list for about 9 years now. None of it's happened.

    Her view of herself limits our love life. "Once I do x, I'll feel free to do y". The list in "y" is pretty long, and is nothing unusual.

    When I tell her she looks beautiful, she looks stunned with disbelief. "But I don't have any makeup on!" "But I'm just in jeans!"
    I honestly think she doesn't believe me. I try to compliment her, and she verbally slaps my face.

    I've given up. She complains and is dissatisfied with her view of herself - but won't do anything real to change either that which she dislikes or her perceptions.

    All I want is for her to accept compliments, and know she's beautiful as she is. I've told her this repeatedly. Nothing changes.

    I used to hope for change. It's not going to happen.

  5. Dear Anonymous,

    It's true, it might not happen. It may not be within your power to change her self-image.

    Within your "giving up" can you love her anyway? Giving up can be a liberating surrender. Can you let go of how you wish she was? See if you can love her exquisitely, feeling the pain of her stuckness, and maintaining humour and acceptance without turning against her, even in subtle ways. This is the masculine challenge that you seem to be facing.

    When you feel yourself shutting down, ask yourself: What is the gift she is presenting? How will you rise to the occasion? How will you use this opportunity to grow into the man you want to be?

    And know, when the pain of her suffering becomes greater than the fear of change, she may surprise you.


  6. Wow, this is a tough one. I think I would start by praying and even fasting about this. My prayer would be, "Lord, I'm powerless to fix this. Work in her life and direct me toward the real inner issues that she is struggling with.

    Secondly, I would focus on myself. I would confide in a close friend who is trustworthy. They can be a prayer partner, a sounding board and an accountability partner. My fear for Luke is that he comes to resent his wife and justifies is own need for intimacy to the point that he turns to porn, masturbation and even other women.

    This is such a huge issue for the man that it becomes consuming to the point that he may began to reinforce her negative feelings out of his own frustration.

    I'm going to pray for you right now.

  7. My experience from what I've learned from other couples and in my own marriage is that women have a deep need to feel secure, and it's not just about their looks or body image. In fact, there could be any number of areas in a woman's life where she feels insecure - finances, career/home, relationships with parents/siblings/children, or even her husband's affection. Even though the concern is in another, apparently unrelated area, it may manifest itself in her body image because there she can complain without it appearing to be a criticism of her husband. For example, if she's insecure about the family's finances she may not want to complain directly because it could appear as if she's criticizing her husband's ability to be a provider.

    Again, it could be anything or several things, but a woman needs to know more than just that you think she's beautiful. She needs to know that you trust her judgment in the way she manages the household, handles the finances, deals with the children - whatever her responsibilities happen to be in the marriage. Does she feel as if she can make a mistake somewhere and you won't hold it against her or bring it up over and over? She also needs to know she can trust you to do your part as well and that you are committed to a united front in dealing with whatever issue comes up. If there's a rough patch she needs to know that the two of you have a common vision to work it out and foresee better things ahead.

    My pastor once told me, "If you want to satisfy a woman in the bedroom, first satisfy her in every room of the house." In both a physical and spiritual sense, what are the rooms that are important to your wife, and does she feel secure? Is there anything in your power that you can do to bolster her in these areas by word or action? It could be that if she is confident and comfortable in other areas then it will be easier for her to keep her concerns about her body image in perspective.

  8. Interestingly enough, about a month and a half ago my partner and I put out a survey on what women thought attracted men. Turns out that women are very harsh on themselves and go through way too much trouble to try and please us. It's not just about sex appeal either. There is a very strong emotional bind for a man towards a woman who has given birth to his child. And this, even if she no longer has the body of a spring chicken! They are battle scars that should be worn in pride, not shame.

  9. Wonderful question and, as always, beautifully answered.

    I'm a female reader, and always admire how intuitive the men on this blog are.

    As a woman that is experiencing this very thing...I have learned from all your comments. Up until 4 years ago, I had a body to I could be secure in. And while I don't blame having my beautiful children for my body change, I am fully aware of the change. Too aware. And unfortunately, if I don't feel sexy, I cannot get into a sexy mood with my husband. Sorry fellas....we're trying, we really are.

    I will suggest something that has NOT helped, and that is when my husband comes to me as the victim. One thing to remember is that WE are suffering too. I LOVE sex...LOVE IT. But not when things jiggle and roll up more than usual on my body. I am very aware of it...*sigh* to the point of it affecting my self image.

    Thank you gentlemen for talking this out and trying to help your wives rather than drive a wedge between you. Your wives should all be very proud!

  10. Still haven't heard from David himself — he must not subscribe to this blog — but I want to thank you all for your comments and discussion. I especially thank V for her words of encouragement to us husbands.

    Thank you for appreciating our lowly efforts.

  11. Woman's point of view here: Most of the reason we are never happy with our looks is that the media is always pushing (fake) perfection in our faces. So one thing that would help, in all seriousness, is to just keep the media out of your lives. No women's magazines. No TV shows full of starlets. No movies full of perfectly made up and carefully lit actresses.

    Honestly, you don't need that stuff in your life anyway - it's all crap - and if she doesn't have it to compare herself to, she'll begin to feel better.

    Also, PMS can drastically affect our self image. The same body that looks pretty darn good to me on Tuesday will have me in tears over my ugliness on Thursday. And even thought I know it's PMS, it still makes me miserable. So to some extent, just giving it a few days might help.

    But ultimately, I have to say in all honesty that there's not much you can do. Women pretty much have to feel we look good in order to feel sexy. And the only thing that's going to fix that is working out. You could, though, suggest working out together. But BE CAREFUL HOW YOU DO IT! :) My suggestion would be to relate it totally to health - lower blood pressure, more stamina, whatever... and start an exercise program and encourage her to join you. Even if you're 23 years old and in great shape, there's probably something you can do - suggest going bike riding together, as a leisure activity, and don't mention the exercise benefits. Bike riding, done several times a week, will do wonderful things for a woman's butt and thighs, which will make her happy.

    If you have kids and she's mentioned something about wanting to work out, offer to take over childcare for a couple of hours every day, so she can exercise.

    And of course, you can always keeps the lights off!

  12. As a recently married man (2 months), this is such wonderful advice. Insecurities about my wife's physical appearance was a constant issue throughout our premarital relationship, and I know that traces of this still lingers. It can often become frustrating for me not knowing how to approach the situation and remind her how beautiful she actually is. This is a great foundation of advice on the topic.

    I am glad to have stumbled upon such a great blog.

  13. My wife is unhappy with me over not showing her enough attention. She thinks she is a fat blob, but when I tell her no she's not, she just gets madder. If I suggest that she lay off her soft drinks(done kindly, not rudely), she gets mad. I've been reading some ideas tonite that sound good, but just want some more feedback. I am teacher/coach who also runs a small lawn service(underpaid teacher!).
    Thanx for your input.