'Questions?' photo (c) 2008, Valerie Everett - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Every weekend I like to post a question someone sends in and let you readers have a go at it. This week’s question comes from a reader, who needs some advice:

I have always struggled with my weight. I go up and down by 10 pounds quite a lot. And since the babies came, my weight is now on average about 25 pounds heavier than it was when we got married.

My husband came to me recently and said that he just doesn’t get turned on by looking at me anymore. He doesn’t find me attractive.

That devastated me, and I told him, and he’s apologized. But I can’t get that thought out of my head that he doesn’t like how I look. I want to lose weight, but it really isn’t easy. And I find myself propositioning him for sex, but he often says no. What do I do?

What do you think?  How should she handle this?

UPDATE: I’m really uncomfortable with the direction the comments are taking and thought I should just chime in.

The comments seem to be blaming the woman here quite a bit, when the truth is we don’t know very much about the situation. That’s partly my fault; I received three almost identical emails, and tried to make one generic one out of them that captured the similarities. This question isn’t about ONE woman; it’s about all of the people who deal with similar problems, and that’s why I try to make them generic. But I am wondering why so many are so quick to lay the blame entirely at the woman’s feet?

There’s talk in the comments, for instance, that gaining 25 pounds is sinful. I find that really disturbing. I think I know about 3 women who are the same weight twenty years after giving birth that they were in their early twenties. Our metabolism slows down as we age. People NATURALLY gain weight, and it becomes much harder to keep it off. As we age we are simply not as attractive as we were in our early twenties. We get wrinkles. We get moles. We get stretch marks. Skin sags, even if you’re in great shape. We get cellulite. These are all facts. To look the same at 45 requires a vast amount of work–an amount of work that may not be possible if one has multiple children, or is working full-time plus raising kids, etc. etc. We all have multiple responsibilities. For me to get down to 114 pounds, which is what I was when I was married, would likely require about 2 hours of working out a day.

I absolutely believe that women need to make an effort to keep up their appearance, as I’ve written about numerous times. I absolutely believe that the issue of choosing “comfort” over looking good is a huge mistake many women make, and one that is not honouring to their husbands. I absolutely believe that women, if health issues are not involved, should not allow themselves to balloon up.

But to say that 25 pounds is sinful is a stretch.

So let me take a stab at how I would answer this. Here are a few guidelines for how I tend to respond to readers when I don’t know the whole situation. I point out the different things which could be issues; I point out where they can each improve; and I suggest ways of talking to their husbands about it. I don’t try to take sides because we don’t know. So here’s what I would say:

I understand how hurtful that must be to you. We want to feel desired by our husbands; we’re hardwired to feel that way. To think that we don’t excite them is devastating. I’m sorry you’re experiencing this.

I don’t know all of the details about your situation, but here are just a few things off of the top of my head:

Sex is supposed to unite us in multiple ways–physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Yes, it’s wonderful physically, and yes, men are hard-wired to be visually stimulated. But sex is also so much more than that. What I’ve seen over the last few years of marriage ministry is that because more and more men (and women!) have been involved with pornography at some point in their lives, more and more men are finding it difficult to become aroused within marriage with a real person. They’re looking for an idealized version of a supermodel, and that can be very damaging to your relationship. I’d just talk openly with your husband about whether he has used porn, or whether he is currently using porn. The fact that he is refusing sex concerns me, and I just wonder if this could be at the root of it.

I’m not saying he is; those are just warning signs to me, and I think every wife needs to be sure that this isn’t a factor in her marriage.

Okay, now what if he’s not using porn (or not dealing with the lingering effects of past porn use)?

I’d also talk to him about how you can work on feeling more intimate together. How can you feel closer? As you feel more intimate, say by sharing your hearts more, praying together more, spending time together more, you naturally also want to feel sexier together. So work on building your friendship and your spiritual life and you may find that the sexual comes along again, too. Sometimes the reason that the sexual falls by the wayside is that we prioritize other things in our lives, like our kids or our jobs. And then the marriage loses its passion. Men, especially, can feel very hurt if they believe we are putting other things in front of them. So don’t let kids come before your man!

Then make sex about real intimacy, too. When we feel truly one, it actually feels better physically, too. Talk to your husband about how much you want to experience great intimacy, and find out his take on what intimacy means to him.

Now let’s turn to you. Sexual attraction is a really finicky thing. Much of it is related to physical appearance, but it isn’t all related to appearance. A lot of it is just attitude. When we act sexy–say by being extra passionate, by kissing him a lot, by flirting with him, etc., he can start to get his engines going again, too. And you can do this no matter what weight you’re at! The key is to show him that you do still consider yourself a sexual being, even after the kids. Dress so that he notices you. Take pride in your appearance. And go out of your way to flirt. It sounds like you are doing some of this–you mentioned that you do proposition him–and that’s great. Men do need to feel wanted.

And it sounds like you are trying to lose weight, which is wonderful. One of the reasons we have difficulty with it, though, is that it just takes so much time. Talk to him about that. Say something like, “I’d love to lose weight, but I would need to go to the gym for two hours three times a week. That’s six hours. Can we brainstorm about what I’m NOT going to do in order to squeeze in the gym? Can you do the bedtime routine three times a week? Can we afford to hire a maid? Can we decide that we won’t eat very elaborate meals?” In other words, get him involved in this so he’s on board, and you don’t feel as if losing weight is just one more thing to add to your already full plate. Let him help you figure out how to find the time and/or the money. Show him that you take his concerns seriously, but ask him to help you with it.

Finally, I’d really talk to him about how he hurt you, and about the fact that he’s still refusing sex. If he says he’s sorry, but he’s still refusing, then that likely means there’s still more going on here below the surface. I think it would be a very good idea to talk to a third party about this–either a marriage counselor or a mentor couple.

Okay, so my answer would be something like that. Here’s what he may be doing wrong; here’s where you can improve how you function as a couple; here’s how you can work on yourself. I know you all can’t comment in that much detail, and I don’t expect you to. But please, let’s refrain from automatically blaming one (he must use porn!), or the other (she must be lazy!). Remember that there are people reading this who have similar issues; it’s not just about the individual letter writer. For each person who writes in there are so many more dealing with something very similar. Automatically assigning blame to one party isn’t helpful because you don’t know the story (and each person’s story will be different). Giving general principles of how to deal with both sides of the issue is more helpful.

And honestly, if people keep blaming one side or the other I may just stop the reader questions altogether. I don’t think they’re helpful in that case. I hope you all understand.

Update: I answered this more fully here: what happens when your spouse doesn’t find you attractive.

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