Listener Letters: Meeting Each Other’s Needs
Sometimes people say the strangest things-and on occasion, they're hurtful. What do you do when the person is your husband and his complaint is about your weight? That's exactly what one listener asked us. Join us for an insightful and compassionate discussion of this difficult topic.
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Sometimes people say the strangest things-and on occasion, they’re hurtful. What do you do when the person is your husband? Join us for an insightful and compassionate discussion of this difficult topic.
Listener Letters: Meeting Each Other’s Needs
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, October 21st. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson, and I'm Bob Lepine.
Let’s be honest: there are certain things that make us more or less attractive to one another, and if we’re less attracted to our spouse, does that mean our marriage needs to change in some way? We’re going to spend time talking about that today; stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us.
Well, here’s what I thought we’d do today.
Dave: Oh boy, Ann, when he says, “Well…”
Ann: I know, there’s always something coming. [Laughter]
Dave: Oh no.
Bob: From time to time we’ll get a note, a letter, a phone call from a listener who has a question for Dave and Ann, so I thought, “Okay—”
Ann: And Bob.
Bob: Well, they didn’t mention me, but I might want to chime in here. This particular caller said, “I have an issue that I haven’t heard addressed yet on FamilyLife Today, and I’d like to know your perspective on this.” It’s related to both parties in the marriage maintaining their health and body types.
Now, before I read what this person called in and asked, just in general, a couple’s getting married and they come to you guys and they say, “Let’s just talk—you know, we’re both athletic, we both want to keep our bodies in shape, but I’m a little worried as I think ahead. What if my spouse doesn’t want to stay in shape ten years from now?”
Ann: We had this exact conversation with a couple.
Bob: Do you remember?
Dave: I don’t remember.
Ann: That was his question. “I’m really worried that my wife will gain weight when we get married, and I don’t think I could deal with that.”
Dave: Oh, I do remember.
Bob: Yes, so what did you say when they were having that conversation?
Ann: I got a little feisty about it and angry—
Dave: Oh, it surprises me that my wife got feisty!
Bob: And angry?
Dave: And angry!
Ann: I’m thinking, well, she’ll probably have babies. Our body types change. There’s a lot going on. Are you not able to accept her if that happens, and if you’re not able to, what’s the deeper issue in that?
Bob: Did you say that to him?
Dave: She pounced pretty good on that one. Remember? It was in our family room.
Dave: I always remember where these conversations happened. It was along the lines—tell me if you remember it this way—“You’re going to make a vow, at your wedding, which is for better or worse, and sometimes things aren’t going to go the way you like or want—”
Ann: Or expect.
Dave: “—she could end up unable to walk for different reasons. Are you going to bail out? She can’t work out or you can’t work out.” So we talked about that a little bit, and also the unconditional love.
Ann: Yes, we talked about the vows and the covenant, what that means.
Bob: He could sit there and say, “Okay, I understand intellectually what you’re talking about. I get it. I know what my responsibility should be, and I know what I’m vowing. I’m just telling you, it’s going to be hard if ten years from now she’s 40 pounds heavier than she is today. I know what I’m supposed to do, but it’s going to feel awkward.” Is that legit?
Ann: Well, I could have said, “If my husband loses his hair, I don’t know if could stay in that marriage.” [Laughter]
Dave: I think she actually did say that.
Ann: No, I didn’t.
Dave: But, I mean, that is a little different, because I have no control over my hair.
Bob: And that is important.
Let me read this message that we got from a listener, who said, “When I married my wife, she was a dancer. She was attractive, and she was toned. Now, 25 years later, she’s 100 pounds heavier, and she says I should love her regardless of her weight. I mean, even at 65 years old, I’m still a visual person, and—just putting it bluntly—I’m not attracted to fat. I feel like I have no choice but to take part in pornography, because my wife refuses to lose weight, and therefore my needs are not being met.
“I know I’m not the only one who feels like this or who deals with this. In fact, I have a friend whose wife is almost 400 pounds. They got the kids grown up and out of the house, and he left.
“I’d like this to be addressed, because my spouse plays a part in this as well. It would be helpful if there was a show where you guys talked about this.”
So, we can talk about “for better, for worse, in sickness, in health,” and I think there is a differentiator between things we have zero control over and things where we do have some control. So you bring up, well, what if she’s in a wheelchair? What if he loses his hair? What if there are things that he can’t or she can’t control?
That’s one issue, but what if there’s something where we’re getting sloppy and we’re putting on weight and it doesn’t seem to matter, and now the attractive, toned dancer that you used to be is not the woman I’m married to, and I am visually not attracted to you any longer.
Let me ask you this. We hear this, and we think, “Okay, we just need to tell this guy to grow up, to man up, and to do his job.” Is there anything legitimate, Dave, in his objection to a wife who’s way overweight?
Dave: My first thought—and it is what I thought when you raised that question, he raised that question—well, first of all, I had to get over my anger. I want to come after the guy.
Dave: Yes. I mean, just about the idea that because—now, I understand, you know, his disappointment and maybe not being as attracted or not attracted to his wife. I understand that, and let’s talk about that second.
First, I would say that is no reason to say, “I’m going to look at pornography.” That is a victim mentality, that’s an excuse, that’s a—
Ann: Well, the words were, “I feel that I have no choice but to take part in pornography.”
Bob: Yes. Here’s where we have to deconstruct this and say, what he’s saying is, “My wife has put on weight, I’m not attracted to her; therefore, my only option is to sin.”
Bob: Jesus said to look on a woman to lust is to commit adultery in your heart. He’s saying, “I have no choice but to commit adultery in my heart. That’s my only option,” and he’s basically calling God a liar, because God says, “No, you have choices. You have the choice to be holy, to be pure, to be blameless. You have a choice to set your mind on things that are above and not on things that are on earth.”
Like you, I think we have to take that off the table. We’ll talk about husbands and wives and putting on weight and challenges and frustrations; that’s a secondary issue. But the idea that this somehow makes pornography acceptable or an affair acceptable, that there’s some infidelity excused because one partner has put on weight and you’re no longer physically attracted—there’s no biblical basis for that at all.
Dave: That’s skirting your personal responsibility. I mean, I used to do this in our marriage with Ann in terms of conflict. I’d say, “Because of you I’m all mad right now,” and actually I’m choosing to be mad on my own. Is our conflict contributing? Yes, but I made a choice to be angry. This guy is making a choice to sin.
Bob: Okay, now let’s go back to the issue of weight and body image, and let me just say, I have in my closet at home the suit that I wore on the day we got married. After we took off the tux I put on a suit, and I still have that in my closet.
Dave: Okay, Bob. Here’s the question: can you fit into it?
Bob: My teenage sons have been able to fit into it! [Laughter] All of them have worn it at some point or another. I’m not sure I could put my leg in where the waist is supposed to go. [Laughter] It’s not quite that bad, but no, clearly my body’s different today.
Ann: Does Mary Ann complain about that? Does she have a right to complain about that?
Dave: Let’s call her up!
Bob: Should we do that? [Laughter]
Dave: Wouldn’t that be fun?
Bob: Mary Ann doesn’t complain about it, but I know for her that the skinny boy she married versus the heftier she’s married to today, it’s a different deal for her, and it’s something that she would look at and say, “Yes, I wish you were skinner.”
Now, in that situation, is she now justified to say, “I’m not physically attracted to you, therefore I’m free from marital obligations,” or, “I’m justified to have alienation of affection”? She’s say, “No. I have to deal with my own thoughts and my own issues related to this.”
I think, by the same token, I have a responsibility to look and say, “Is there anything I can do here?”
Dave: Yes. I mean, if Mary Ann came to you tomorrow and said, “Bob, this really does lessen my desire not only to be attracted to you but to even be married to you, and it’s causing me to even be tempted. Could you lose 20 pounds, 30 pounds, 100 pounds?” Would you be like—how would you respond to that?
Ann: Even the way you verbalize that makes me cringe a little bit.
Dave: I’m just asking the question that this guy asked.
Ann: I know, and I think a guy might be able to receive that a little bit better than a woman.
Bob: I think that’s a valid point. I also think we have to take into account that, as you look at the science on this, it’s not as easy as somebody being able to say, “Oh, yes, I can drop 50, I can drop 100.”
Ann: Yes. This guy says, “My wife refuses to lose weight.”
Ann: I think as women we already feel the pressure from society of looking a certain way, not only in our youth but as we age. I think, poor Dave, I’m getting older, and I’m changing, and it’s not always for the positive. So we feel that pressure anyway as women, and I sit there and I say to this guy, come alongside her.
Ann: Is it a physical issue? Is there something wrong medically that’s not allowing her to lose weight? I can tell you, she probably isn’t thrilled that she’s gained 100 pounds. So, what’s the deeper issue of her life? I know that I can struggle with wanting to overeat, and it’s usually because I’m filling my life with something, but to have a partner in it, for her to be vulnerable and to say, “I hate this.”
Dave: I’ll tell you where I would go—and if I had five minutes with this man I would encourage him, hopefully, to go here—if this was my wife (tell me if I wouldn’t do this), I would be looking in the mirror at myself, saying, “How have I contributed to her feeling this need to eat,” or whatever the struggle is?
Ann: Or just feeling less than.
Dave: I really feel like—I pulled it up when you said that, Bob, I pulled up Ephesians five, and I feel like a biblical, godly perspective on being a husband—here it is; I’ll read it to you. “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her.” Many of us have heard that, and we’re like, “Okay, I have to lay down my life for my wife.” But we often stop there.
Paul goes on to say, “…to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to Himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.” It’s this beautiful picture, obviously, of Jesus and the church and the Bride and how He cleanses and sanctifies us to this unbelievable image of beauty, back to Himself; but He’s giving husbands a picture of loving your wives in such a way that you bring out radiant beauty.
As Ann and I have been married all these years, I keep thinking, it isn’t just physical beauty, but is she beaming?
Dave: Is she a better woman because of the way I love her and treat her like Christ does the church? If I’m this guy, I’d be—you know, it’s really easy to say, “It’s her fault, she has a problem; I can’t deal with this anymore.”
Another way is to say, “Okay, I’m going to look in the mirror and say, ‘What am I doing? How can I love her in such a way that I can help bring her back to the beauty that she wants to have as well?’” I mean, I would want to be her partner. I’d feel very strongly responsible, rather than opposite. He’s like, “I’m not responsible; it’s her fault.” I’d be like, “No, this is part of me. What can I do? How can I love her in such a way that she becomes radiant?”
Bob: Mm-hmm. I think this husband, we could ask him, “Have you been doing that? Are you washing your wife with the Word? Do you read the Scriptures with her? Are you praying with her regularly? Are you spiritually engaged with her? Does she know—are you leading her spiritually?”
Then, it goes on to talk about how a husband nourishes and cherishes his wife. Does she feel cherished by you?
Ann: Yes. Is he affectionate?
Bob: Does she feel nourished by you? I think you have to look and say, “What’s my role in trying to strengthen and build up our marriage?”
Now, the guy who says, “Okay, I’ll try this for awhile and see if she loses some weight,” he’s missed the whole point, which is, you shouldn’t be focused on the outer man.
In fact, elsewhere in the Scriptures Paul says, look, the outer man is wasting away, and the outer man is the tent that will one day be folded up. It’s the inner man that’s being renewed. What about your wife’s inner person? Do you value that? Do you cherish that? Do you love her inner person? Are you attracted to her inner person?
Or have you become so body-oriented, so visually oriented, that you can’t even see the person God made, who she is inside, and nurture and nourish and cherish who that person is?
Ann: Andy Stanley once said that your spouse should be able to know how much God loves them by the way you treat them. I’ve always been struck by that, thinking, “Does Dave know how much God loves him by the way I treat him? Would Jesus treat him the same way?” I don’t think Jesus would treat this woman in that same way.
Bob: Yes. So, let me just take it one step further, because this issue emerges. There are some husbands who encourage their wives or pressure their wives for body enhancement, and there are some wives who go along with that because they want to be attractive to their husband. “If that’s what he wants, I’m willing to go along with that.”
First of all, if a husband has that desire, is that okay for him to have that desire and to want to do cosmetic surgery? Secondly, if a husband and wife are both okay with it, do we say, “Well, that’s fine,” or should we pull back and go, “We need to ask a few deeper questions first”?
Dave: Wow, Bob’s asking the tough stuff today.
Ann: I know. I think it would never end. I’d like to get a face-lift; is that okay? [Laughter] We could just keep going!
Dave: Yes, I was thinking about getting some plugs.
Bob: Were you?
Dave: Yes, I’m going to have a beetle hair-cut by the end of the month.
No, I mean, obviously, I think we tend to focus on the things that aren’t as important.
Ann: Because our culture does.
Dave: Does the body matter? Of course it does, and we’re not going to pretend that it doesn’t. But to think that, “If my wife or my husband enhances their body in a certain way that my love for them is going to be greater,” is superficial. It’s so much deeper, it’s soulish in nature. I think we have to be reminded to go back to what really, really matters.
One of the good things about getting older, as we three know, is it’s not about the body.
Ann: Gravity always wins! [Laughter]
Dave: If it was, where would we be? You cannot control some things, but yet it’s about the soul, and if you continue to pursue that, pursue that. We have to work intimately on our relationship. I’m not saying don’t take care of your body; of course take care of your body! We try to work out every single day.
Ann: Yes, and Shaunti Feldhahn talks about that in her book For Women Only. This really does matter to our husbands.
Bob: So, given that, should a wife—if you’re talking to a younger wife, do you say to her, “One of the things you ought to try to do is try to keep your appearance as attractive as you possibly can”?
Ann: I have shared that, because I’ve shared the statistics that Shaunti brings up. It’s not that we become this size…whatever…size two of four; it’s that we take care of ourselves. So that part I do say. I think it’s important that we take care of ourselves. We house the temple of the Holy Spirit.
Dave: Yes, it’s interesting. In Shaunti’s book, her point is—she says this, “Why What’s on the Outside Matters to Him on the Inside,” and her subtitle there on the chapter is, “You don’t need to be a size three, but your man does need to see you making the effort to take care of yourself, and he will willingly help you.”
It’s interesting; in her research, I think she was probably shocked, we were as well, like, wow, that does matter. It isn’t the most important thing, but it is up there in the top ten, according to Shaunti, just from research.
Bob: I have heard women say (you can verify this for me) that they’re probably the most self-critical—
Dave: Oh, yes.
Bob: —in terms of body image.
Ann: That’s what I’m saying. This woman feels terrible about herself, probably. She’s not happy about it. We are very self-critical.
Bob: So if a husband comes along and says, “You look beautiful,” she wonders if he’s lying to her.
Ann: Oh, I always say that to Dave. “You’re lying.”
Dave: She does.
Bob: Even if he goes, “No, I really think you look wonderful,” in the back of your mind it’s kind of like, “That doesn’t compute, because when I look at myself in the mirror, I don’t see the beauty you see, I see the flaws.”
So, as a general principle, a husband should say, “I will never criticize my wife’s appearance. I am doing nobody any good to say a critical thing about her appearance.” Now, if she has a big stain on her shirt, you can say, “You might want to notice that,” right, if there’s something obvious. But for him to say, “Have you put on a little weight?”
Bob: You may think that’s an innocent comment—
Ann: And would motivate her…but it does the opposite.
Dave: Bob, you said never. Do you mean it?
Bob: I mean never.
Dave: I agree. Never.
Bob: I would say, yes, absolutely; you think it, you bite your tongue. You don’t say that. That’s not helpful.
Ann: One of my friends, she’d been married 25 years, and—this was the most remarkable story to me—she said, “Ann, my husband always made me feel so beautiful. He constantly told me how beautiful I was, and I believed him.”
She said, “This one day we went to a water park,” where there are just hundreds and hundreds of people in their bathing suits and bikinis, and she said, “I remember looking at myself in the mirror at this bathroom at the water park and then going outside and seeing all these women, and I thought, ‘I’m nothing compared to these women! My body is terrible! My husband’s been lying to me all these years!’”
She said, “But I also thought, ‘If my husband thinks I’m beautiful, I can’t think of anything better.’” She said, “It made me love him and made we want to respect him even more, because he thought I was stunning, when the world is continually critiquing me.”
I was like, wow!
Dave: That’s Ephesians 5.
Bob: We’ll close with this.
Bob: There’s a story—you’ve probably heard this told at one point or another at a Weekend to Remember marriage getaway—where a wife had to have facial surgery, and the facial surgery meant some nerves had to be cut. When the facial surgery was done, her face was paralyzed in some spaces, there was an eye that was drooping. She looked at herself in the mirror and what she was, “I look hideous.”
The story goes on that her husband came in for the first time after the surgery and saw her, and she was petrified at how he was going to react. He saw her and he smiled and he said, “You have a crooked little smile.”
That comment from that husband, to say, “I still love you. Your face is now not what it was and will never be what it was…”
Ann: But it’s almost endearing.
Bob: Yes. So I would say to this husband and to any husband, find a way to nourish and cherish your wife, and don’t find her weight as an excuse for you to indulge yourself in some kind of sin. Right?
Bob: Alright. So, if you have a tougher question than that one— [Laughter]
Dave: That was pretty tough! That was not easy.
Bob: —you can go online at FamilyLifeToday.com, and we want to tackle these from time to time.
Dave: Bob wants to tackle them. [Laughter] Send them to Bob Lepine.
Bob: Again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com, and there’s a link there where you can send in your question and from time to time we’ll answer some of those here on FamilyLife Today.
By the way, I wanted to mention that we are in the process of wrapping up some final work on a small group video series that we’ve produced with you guys on the book Vertical Marriage.
Bob: This should be available this winter.
Bob: It’s a five-part marriage series that FamilyLife is producing, a small group video series on marriage based on your book, Vertical Marriage. You can go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com, and there’s a link there available that has more information about this upcoming series. Let us know if you’re interested, and we’ll keep in touch with you and let you know when it comes out. This may be something you want to do with your small group in the spring, or do a class at church around marriage, using the Vertical Marriage material.
Again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com to find out more about the Vertical Marriage video series from FamilyLife, or call us if you have any questions or want information over the phone. 1-800-FLTODAY is our number. 1-800-358-6329. That’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word “TODAY.”
Now, I don’t want to do anything to rush the season—I’m talking about the holiday season, the Christmas season—but the reality is it’s all around us everywhere. I mean, I heard a Christmas song in a story the other day, and I thought, “Really? Really? Here is mid-October.” But we know the holiday season kind of comes up on us, and you start getting overwhelmed by it.
FamilyLife has put together a free e-book that is designed as a holiday survival guide, designed to help you make the most of the holiday season and keep the focus where it ought to be. Again, this is completely free. You can go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com, and download the holiday survival guide. Even if you’re not ready to open up the file yet, just have it on hand so that when you start to feel ready for engaging on holiday issues, this is available to help walk you through it. FamilyLife’s Holiday Survival Guide is available online at FamilyLifeToday.com.
Now, tomorrow we’re going to hear a conversation that our friend Kim Anthony had recently with Anthony Thompson, who is a pastor in Charleston, South Carolina. His wife was at the Bible study at Emmanuel AME Church when the shooting took place four years ago, and she was killed in that shooting. Pastor Thompson has written a book on the subject of forgiveness, and we’ll hear his story tomorrow. Hope you can be with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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