Question

My husband and I have six children ten years and under. Our youngest is less than six months old. When our fifth child was only three months old, my husband told me point-blank that he didn’t find me attractive anymore because I was fat. Despite being extremely hurt, I worked hard and lost a lot of the baby weight over the course of a year and a half. I didn’t really start to lose weight until I stopped breastfeeding. Almost two years ago we had a conversation about expanding our family further and I expressed worry about gaining more weight and having to work it all off again and what it would do to our relationship. My husband assured me it would be fine. One baby later, things are not fine. I have been working for months to lose the weight to appease him but he’s not acknowledging my effort. He ignores me and puts in late hours at work. He’s really blunt and hurtful with his words. He’s said that I am “repulsive” to look at and that he hates my body. (He assures me he does not have issues with pornography, and I have reason to believe him).

He doesn’t treat me with any respect or affection at all and has even indicated that I had no right to expect it if I wasn’t even attractive in his eyes. I have told him to stop, because what he’s doing constitutes verbal abuse. He sneered and said, “You don’t know what real abuse is.” I haven’t told my parents because I recognize this behavior is absolutely not acceptable, and if they knew they would insist I leave my husband and move in with them, which is something I’d prefer not to do. My sisters-in-law (my husband’s sisters) are aware of this situation and also say I should leave. I don’t want a divorce because my temple covenants are important to me, and I don’t want my children to be without a father, but at the same time I feel that I am worth more than this. I deserve better treatment. The respect I get from my husband shouldn’t be contingent on my appearance or attractiveness. When I articulate these feelings to him, he doesn’t think they’re important, or he’ll try to use logic to tell me this is all I deserve because I’m fat and ugly. I don’t want to live like this anymore, but I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to get him to stop treating me the way he’s treating me.

Answer

You’re correct that this is verbal abuse and it won’t stop until you do something more direct to protect yourself from his attacks on your worth and dignity. You have freely offered your body to him and your children in full confidence that together you could build and grow your marriage and family. Tragically, he’s trampled on this sacred gift. While you alone are the only one who can ultimately decide what course to take, I want to offer support and clarity about your situation.

Even though you’ve understood that his mistreatment of you is harmful, it’s clearly difficult to not take it personally and give in to his relentless demands and criticisms. It’s hard not to buy into the belief that your body is the problem and needs to be transformed into a “fictional standard” of beauty.[i] Your husband may not be looking at pornography, but he’s internalized one of the most damaging elements of pornography: the objectification of women’s bodies. His insistence that your body exists to please him is pure objectification. As long as he maintains this distorted view, you will be reduced to a one-dimensional object that he will continue to manipulate with his disapproval.

You are worried about breaking your temple covenants, losing your marriage, and ruining the lives of your children by leaving him. While I can’t speak to the state of your marriage covenants, the teachings of the scriptures, modern prophets, and other leaders makes it abundantly clear that your husband’s behaviors have already damaged the very bonds you’re trying to salvage. It’s his responsibility, not yours, to repair the damage he’s created with his verbal abuse. Allow me to illustrate what I’m describing with direct quotes from our leaders:

Elder F. Burton Howard:

“Those who verbally or physically abuse their wives or husbands or those who degrade or demean or exercise unrighteous dominion in a marriage are not keeping the covenant. If we are not keeping our part of the covenant, we have no promise.”[ii]

President Howard W. Hunter:

“Any man who abuses or demeans his wife physically or spiritually is guilty of grievous sin and in need of sincere and serious repentance.”[iii]

President Gordon B. Hinckley:

“Our behavior in private is even more important. It must clear the standard set by the Lord. We cannot indulge in sin, let alone try to cover our sins. We cannot gratify our pride. We cannot partake of the vanity of unrighteous ambition. We cannot exercise control, or dominion, or compulsion upon our wives or children, or any others in any degree of unrighteousness.

If we do any of these things, the powers of heaven are withdrawn. The Spirit of the Lord is grieved. The very virtue of our priesthood is nullified. Its authority is lost.

Even though those in authority lay hands upon our heads and we are ordained, we may through our behavior nullify and forfeit any right to exercise this divine authority.

How tragic and utterly disgusting a phenomenon is wife abuse. Any man in this Church who abuses his wife, who demeans her, who insults her, who exercises unrighteous dominion over her is unworthy to hold the priesthood. Though he may have been ordained, the heavens will withdraw, the Spirit of the Lord will be grieved, and it will be amen to the authority of the priesthood of that man.

Any man who engages in this practice is unworthy to hold a temple recommend.

I am confident that when we stand before the bar of God, there will be little mention of how much wealth we accumulated in life or of any honors which we may have achieved. But there will be searching questions concerning our domestic relations. And I am convinced that only those who have walked through life with love and respect and appreciation for their companions and children will receive from our eternal judge the words, ‘Well done, thou good and faithful servant: … enter thou into the joy of thy lord’ (Matt 25:21).”[iv]

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland

“To impair or impede [your wife] in any way for [your] gain or vanity or emotional mastery over her should disqualify [you] on the spot to be her husband. Indeed, it should consign [your] miserable soul to eternal incarceration in that large and spacious building Lehi says is the prison of those who live by ‘vain imaginations’ and the ‘pride of the world’ (1 Nephi 11:36, 12:18). No wonder that building is at the opposite end of the field from the tree of life representing the love of God! In all that Christ was, He was not ever envious or inflated, never consumed with His own needs. He did not once, not ever, seek His own advantage at the expense of someone else. He delighted in the happiness of others, the happiness He could bring them. He was forever kind.

In a dating and courtship relationship, I would not have you spend five minutes with someone who belittles you, who is constantly critical of you, who is cruel at your expense and may even call it humor. Life is tough enough without having the person who is supposed to love you leading the assault on your self-esteem, your sense of dignity, your confidence, and your joy. In this person’s care you deserve to feel physically safe and emotionally secure.”[v]

Whether you stay with him or decide to leave for your safety and protection, it’s important for you to reclaim your body as your own and not allow him to influence how you feel about yourself. You can’t stop him from saying these horrible things, but you can prevent him from having direct access to you. You have to determine how you will arrange this based on your circumstances, but it’s important to get out of his line of fire. I recognize that you are going to encounter tremendous resistance and struggle as you do this, but your mental and physical health depend on you taking action to protect yourself from his verbal attacks. Your swift actions will also send a clear message to your children (now or later) about how people, especially a wife, should be treated.

Work closely with a therapist trained in treating abuse and betrayal trauma. Seek support from your local domestic violence shelter and see if they have support groups you can attend to help you gather strength and build some personal accountability as you commit to this difficult direction. And, if your bishop, Relief Society President, and ministering members are educated about abuse and can be supportive resources, ask them for additional support. It’s not easy to ask for this kind of support, but this isn’t something you want to do alone. The crazy-making messages from your husband are too destructive to process without someone on the outside helping you make sense of reality.

Even when you create physical distance from these messages, you still need to address the damaging messages you’ve internalized over the years. I recommend you follow the examples of those courageous individuals in Lehi’s vision of the tree of life who, when they partook of the fruit, ignored the mocking and scornful jeers from those in the great and spacious building. Even though they could hear what was being lobbed their direction, they “heeded them not.”[vi]

You’ll have regular temptations to view your body through the internalized voice of your critical husband. You’ll notice these perceived flaws he so cruelly pointed out over the years and feel worse about yourself. This internal voice is the voice you’ll have to challenge and silence. Like a bully, when you stand up to it enough times it will eventually go away. He has told you lies about your powerful body. He’s convinced you to see your body as an “ornament” instead of an “instrument.”[vii] You can reclaim the truth about your body and focus on what your body can do instead of what it looks like. I recommend you spend time reading all of the resources available on the Beauty Redefined blog to help you reprogram the way you see yourself and the gift of your body. As the founders of Beauty Redefined remind all women, “You are more than a body. See more. Be more.”[viii]

As you quiet down these messages from your husband through stark confrontation, separation, or other means, you will need to turn your focus to gently rebuilding a more accurate view of yourself so you don’t live the rest of your life believing you’re not enough. I’m terribly sorry your husband couldn’t see you accurately, but know that your worth and value isn’t determined by anyone else. It is fixed and eternal. Elder Deiter F. Utchdorf reminds you that, “you are not ordinary, rejected, or ugly. You are something divine — more beautiful and glorious than you can possibly imagine. This knowledge changes everything. It changes your present. It can change your future. And it can change the world.”[ix]

Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at [email protected]

If you’ve broken trust with your spouse and want a structured approach to repairing the damage you’ve created, I’ve created the Trust Building Bootcamp, a 12-week online program designed to help you restore trust and become a trustworthy person. You can receive 20% off by entering the code MERIDIAN at checkout. Visit www.trustbuildingacademy.com to learn more and enroll in the course.

About the Author

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples, pornography/sexual addiction, betrayal trauma, and infidelity. He is the founder of LifeStar of St. George, Utah (www.lifestarstgeorge.com) and Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com). Geoff is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, the host of the Illuminate podcast, and creates online relationship courses available at www.trustbuildingacademy.com. He earned degrees from Brigham Young University and Auburn University. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.

You can connect with him at:
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCc05gV4t9A0B8-TDT1EfWhQ?view_as=subscriber
Website: www.geoffsteurer.com 
Twitter: @geoffsteurer
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[i] https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2005/10/to-young-women?lang=eng

[ii] https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2003/04/eternal-marriage?lang=eng

[iii] https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/1994/10/being-a-righteous-husband-and-father?lang=eng

[iv] https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2002/04/personal-worthiness-to-exercise-the-priesthood?lang=eng

[v] https://speeches.byu.edu/talks/jeffrey-r-holland/how-do-i-love-thee/

[vi] 1 Nephi 8:33

[vii] https://beautyredefined.org/body-is-instrument-not-ornament/

[viii] https://beautyredefined.org/blog/

[ix] https://www.thechurchnews.com/archives/2009-11-01/president-dieter-f-uchtdorf-the-reflection-in-the-water-68673