Dear Carolyn: My husband and I have been married for 18 years. I’m 36, and he’s 40. The sex has waned over the years. I have always had the higher desire.
I have been down about my lack of fitness results since our son was born six years ago (Caesarean section complications and a thyroid disorder changed my body composition). I asked him if he noticed any difference when I work out regularly. He offered, “You’re in a better mood when you do.” I told him I would appreciate feedback on how my body looks, because I want to know if my efforts make a difference. He finally did say, “Yes, you have looked better when you work out.” I asked him, “When, and do you remember which workout routine?”
He said this line of questioning was feeling dangerous and didn’t want to talk about it. I walked away annoyed. He apologized for dismissing the question. So I bit: “When did you notice the difference? Was it a workout before or after pregnancy?” My husband said this still felt dangerous, and in his defense I disregarded the signs. “Bluntly, when have I looked better naked?” His answer was “Of COURSE you looked better when you were YOUNGER! Everything in our culture is centered around that concept, it shouldn’t surprise you! Look at the ways MY body has changed too!”
Not the answer I was looking for. I told him I had said to my sister the week before that he gets better looking every year. After the anger subsided, he expressed regret and told me I was “still beautiful.”
This was one month ago. All I can think when he looks at me is, “I wonder if he’s noticing my fine lines or my deflated stomach?” Should this have bothered me? Why can’t I stop thinking about one dumb statement (which is objectively true)?
Perception: You put him in an impossible position, over and over again, refusing to hear his excellent answers until he confirmed for you what you wanted confirmed.
And what he confirmed wasn’t bad, either: I think we can agree with him while still believing the emotional side of appearance can improve with wrinkles and sags.
Postpartum bodies are a great example. If stretch marks were objectively beautiful, then bikini models would have them Photoshopped in. But they obviously don’t. Stretch marks are beautiful for what they mean, and can be loved and appreciated and viewed as sexy, all of these even more so than a smooth young figure, but that’s emotion mixed with aesthetics. You hammered just the aesthetic point till you got the pain you wanted. It’s akin to cutting.
The kindest thing you can do for your husband is to apologize, and for yourself is to talk to a therapist specializing in body image. A drop-off in sex can be about age, familiarity (you’ve been together your entire adulthood!), the rigors of childrearing, stress, health issues — so many things besides tautness of flesh.
Your husband’s responses tell me he’s mindful of your feelings, finds you beautiful and doesn’t hold you to any standard, much less to a higher standard than he does himself. Please don’t put him in the crosshairs of your self-doubt; seek professional healing instead.