Does your wife struggle with body image issues? Have you ever wondered what to say or do to help her? Here’s the fight-free way to navigate a wife’s body image issues.
The first thing you need to do, especially if you are already a Christian, is read this article. It will help shed some light on the deeper, spiritual roots of body image issues.
Now, buckle your seat belt as we tackle some of the trickiest, most challenging, most awkward experiences you may encounter as a husband trying to help navigate your wife’s body image issues. These will be presented as a series of FAQ’s or “Frequently Asked Questions.”
Are you ready?
FAQ #1: What do I say when my wife says, “I’m fat,” “I feel fat,” “Do I look fat?” Isn’t this question a trap?
Ahhhh . . .the question that all husbands hate. It’s not a trap as much as a cry for help. Most women say or ask questions like this because they are looking for a little genuine affirmation. The hard part is, your response at this moment may not mean much. You can think of it like dehydration. Did you know that by the time you “feel” thirsty, you are already dehydrated?
Thirst is not your first signal of a need for water, it’s a later one. It’s the same for your wife and her need for affirmation. Her question or comment is a signal of thirst. But, there’s a chance she’s been parched for a long time.
What can you do? Start affirming her. Regularly.
She’s likely not going to respond in the way you would hope the first few times you do it. She may question your sincerity, motives, or worse!
She may not even look up and acknowledge what you said. (I’m not excusing these behaviors, I’m just acknowledging what’s possible.)
All of these responses will make you less likely to want to continue affirming her. You’ll think “That blogger had no clue what she was talking about! This doesn’t work!” But, stick with it. Depending on how parched your wife is, how thirsty for your affirmation she has become, it may take weeks or even months to refill her to the point where she can graciously and confidently say, “Thanks, honey!”
Whatever you do, don’t ignore the question.
Also know that the term fat is relative. I don’t care if you DO think she looks a little plumper than she did five years ago. Your answer, kind sir, is always, “You look great.”
If you think she should lose a few pounds, this is not the right time to bring it up. This leads us to question number two.
Weight Loss Issues
FAQ #2: My wife needs to lose weight. The doctor has told her this, and I’m fearful for the health issues that will inevitably come unless she does it. How can I help her without making her feel insecure? Is there a way for me to be helpful in her weight loss journey?
That’s a great question. The answer is: Definitely! Here are the most important things to note.
First, you must both know that weight loss isn’t a guarantor of health. There are many other ways to get healthy. Just losing weight may not take care of all of the health concerns. In fact, dieting has a 95% failure rate. Which means that if you go on a diet to lose weight and get healthy, you may end up ganging more than you lost and feeling “less healthy” years down the road because of the impact of the diet.
It’s time to stop interchanging the words “healthy” with “thinner.” Many thin people still struggle with health issues. Many fat people have perfect blood work and live disease free.
That said . . .
If she wants to lose weight to feel better in her body, the best thing you can do is NOT to take on the role of her conscience. She has one. Chances are this “must lose weight” anthem chants in her head, always. It feels condemning. If you join in the chorus, you’re condemning her too, which is the opposite of what you need to be doing as her man.
Shame never leads to healthier habits. No one has ever successfully shamed themselves skinny and had it last.
You can encourage her with positive reinforcement around new habits she may be developing. “Thank you for cooking such nutrient-rich meals for us. This will help us all feel better!” Or, “I love how you’ve started walking. Maybe I can go with you sometime?”
Weight loss is about so much more than just food and exercise. Our bodies need to feel safe. The famine and feast cycle of being on a diet and off a diet confuses our physical bodies into thinking that the end is near. For many of us, dropping a few pounds becomes harder and harder as we age because our bodies are afraid that we’ll starve them again.
Every body has a set point, a weight that it feels happy and healthy at. I’d encourage you to think about your wife’s struggle with weight from this broader perspective. She may never weigh what she did in her 20s again. But guess what, your body will change too. Can you give your wife grace and space to develop a healthy relationship with food and her body so that she can be physically healthy too?
FAQ #3: I struggle to find my wife attractive now that her body looks different. She’s changed and gained a lot of weight since we got married. This frustrates me.
I want to “want” her, but I just can’t get over how she looks. What can I do to help her get her old body back?
I appreciate the honesty of this question. But, it infuriates me a bit too. So, please bear with me while I attempt to answer it as lovingly and graciously as possible.
You married your wife for better or for worse . . .right? Unless you changed those vows, that’s just part of the deal. Our aging bodies are decaying. We’re always one day closer to death. And, they don’t stay the same. Pregnancies, childbirth, stress, child-rearing, more stress, health issues, family issues, all of these elements impact a woman’s body. Most women are not able to “bounce back.” Those Hollywood women you see who seem to instantly return to their “old selves” a few months after a baby comes have cooks, maids, a nanny, a gym in the mansion, and a personal trainer. (Oh, and a plastic surgeon.)
As I see it, here are your options to helping your wife:
Option 1: You can encourage your wife to quit her job, hire her some childcare help (assuming you have children), and then hire her a cook, a maid, and a personal trainer. Please don’t expect her to do anything for you, including make your dinner or iron your shirts, for at least six months and give her that time off. Remove all stress from her life and require nothing of her, and I bet her body will start to change. Though she may resent you. It’s can be the case that when a woman begins to focus on body improvement, she gets so focused on it and the attention she receives around it that she is no longer interested in the man who wanted her to change.
Or, Option 2: You can give her some grace.
This is the one I recommend.
Be her biggest fan instead of her biggest critic. Pray for a new attraction to your wife.
Ask yourself: Am I defining beauty in the world’s way or in the Word’s way? Because, if you’re not defining beauty the way God does. . . is asking your wife to be more beautiful in the world’s way really what’s healthiest for either of you?
Pray that you can be the kind of husband she needs to flourish.
Stop comparing her to other women. She’s your wife, those other women aren’t. Your job is to love her well. Comparing her to other women is an abdication of your job.
Take those thoughts of “what would it be like to be with her” captive and repent. If need be, get rid of your internet, stop watching television and movies, and do whatever it takes to get your attention and affection reset on the Lord and the woman he has given you.
I heard a marriage counselor once say that if the grass looks greener on the other side, it’s time to water your lawn. Are you pouring into your wife? Are you nurturing her and caring for her? Many women who struggle to care for their bodies are (generally speaking) have inattentive husbands. Psychologist Gerald May in his book, Addictions and Grace, says that all addictions are medication for weak relationships. An addiction to changing or improving her body is no exception. Her relationship with Jesus needs to get stronger, as does her relationship with you.
Love her well, and you’ll see her bloom.
I’m not saying she’ll turn into a size six or revert back to how she looked the day you got married (chances are you’ve changed a bit since then too, right?). But, with your affection and attention, she’ll develop the kind of beauty that radiates inside and out.
Think about it: When you’re eighty, neither of you will look anything like you did on your wedding day (unless you married in your 70s, of course!). Why not grow in grace and age together in a way that will last for eternity?
FAQ #4: I think my wife has an eating disorder. I don’t see her eat, she often finds things to do during family meal times. She seems to be dropping weight fast too. I’ve asked her about it and she denies it. But, I can tell there’s something wrong. I worry about her. What should I do?
Your wife is very blessed to have you so tuned in that you would notice this change. My best advice for you is to keep asking her. Make sure you ask at the right time (during meal time with kids around she’s certain to blow you off!). Ask her at bedtime or when you are out, alone. Tell her you are worried she’s not eating enough. Ask her if she’s trying to lose weight or needs to change her body for you.
Then, I’d encourage her to get help. Once eating disorders latch on, they can escalate. The “buzz” she gets as her weight starts to drop is as real as any substance-driven high. If she’s stopped eating and is dropping weight, it will be hard to “talk her into” eating again. If she’s bingeing and purging, she may also feel shame and guilt and some level of fear when it comes to consuming calories she can’t expel. Does she have a history with a certain eating disorder? Then it may “come back” even quicker.
There are many great Christian eating disorder resources out there. Point her towards Christian eating disorder programs like the ones I recommend on this site. These online based support group programs allow her to get some help from home. You may also want to talk to your pastor about finding a qualified Christian counselor or even a treatment center nearby. Don’t just assume a full-fledged eating disorder will “go away.” Some intervention will likely be necessary.
Do you have a specific question about helping your wife with her body image? Write it in comments and we’ll tackle it in a future post!
Read part one of this series here: How to Help Your Wife with Her Body Image Issues.
Encourage your wife to listen to the Compared to Who? podcast for regular encouragement.
Purchase your wife an hour or two of Christian Body Image coaching. We talk about how to improve your marriage and her response to you physically and emotionally. Many women who wrestle with body image issues also struggle in marriage. We can help.
Or, buy her one of Heather’s awesome books on body image issues.