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Editor’s Note: Author Geoff Steurer is joined by his wife Jody in answering this question.
My wife hates it when I compliment her body. I always thought that it would be nice for a wife to hear these types of comments from her husband. She’s often complaining about her body and I thought that saying positive things about her body would help her feel better about herself. Instead, she acts like I’m a creep when I flirt with her or tell her that I’m physically attracted to her. The only time I can ever say anything about her body is when we’re sexually intimate, but other than that, comments about her body are off limits. I find my wife attractive and it’s confusing why I can’t compliment her beauty without negative consequences.
Since I’ve never spoken to your wife about her experiences with you, I can only guess why she’s responding this way. Even though I’m going to share some ideas with you, they’re only my ideas. It’s best for you to carefully consider each of these suggestions and then discuss them directly with your wife. She’s trying to tell you that your approach isn’t working, so doing more of the same is only going to create more disconnection.
It’s always helpful to start with examining your internal motivation for why you insist on complimenting her body. Here are some questions to consider:
- Is her body shame uncomfortable for you?
- Is it hard for you to see her being critical of herself?
- Is it important to you to be able to comment on her body and have her like it?
- Are you wanting to reassure her that she is enough for you?
I believe your intentions are good, but uninformed good intentions can still be harmful. The best gift you can give her is to fully see who she is and understand how she feels cherished. You can begin by honoring the experience she is already communicating to you, which is that compliments about her body aren’t appreciated.
It might also be helpful to expand your perspective to recognize that, when it comes to women and body image, there are bigger forces at play. On a daily basis both you and your wife are getting messages about what her body should look like. Images in magazines, movies, TV, and on computer screens are selling us a culturally constructed ideal female body type (which, by the way, constantly changes through the years). These images affect the way she sees her own body, but also how you see her body. It’s hard for anyone to escape these influences, even when you are being conscious and deliberate about media consumption. The differences between those images, how your wife sees her own body, and how others see her, are likely ever-present in her mind. And, painfully, many women internalize this as a personal failure.
Although these harmful ideal body image messages are everywhere, there is a lot you can do to create a culture in your marriage that supports healthy body resilience. The problem actually lies in hyper-focusing on the body. She is already hyper-focusing on her body and unhappy with the ways that it doesn’t measure up to the ideal. If your primary way to compliment her only focuses on her body, you are adding fuel to her already burning fire of self-judgement. You may think you’re helping, but you’re still drawing attention to her body.
Her body is neither the problem nor the solution. Taking your focus off of her body is how you can begin to help inoculate against the harmful internalized messages. After all, as Beauty Redefined co-founders Lexi and Lindsay Kite teach, a woman is much more than a body.[i]
Here are some questions you can answer to help you and her see more than just her body:
- What are the ways that your wife shows up in the world that make a difference?
- How does she bless you, your children, her work colleagues, her neighbors, her extended family members, and her friends?
- What is she especially good at?
- How is your life better because she is in it?
- What amazes you about her?
Noticing these things and complimenting your wife on them will go a long way to reinforce to her that she is more than just a body. My guess is that the reason she responds better to your compliments in the bedroom is because it’s in a context that is more body-centered. When you’re in a sexually intimate experience with her, she’s offering you all of her, which includes her body. However, if you only see her body outside of the bedroom, she may wonder if that’s all she is for you.
If you are still concerned about your wife’s body shame, talk with her about it. Ask her what media influences are the hardest on her body image? The two of you can take steps together to weed them out of your life; cancel subscriptions, unfollow triggering feeds, avoid TV shows and movies that reduce women to a set of specific ideal body parts and, instead, seek out shows that celebrate women as the strong, thinking, feeling, and problem-solving beings that they are. There are some great resources available, such as the Beauty Redefined website, that can help your wife build up body image resilience.
I’d also like to mention one important consideration that may be influencing her response to you. If your wife is a victim of sexual abuse or betrayal trauma (from you or someone else), your wife will likely be struggling with constant feelings of insecurity, shame, and comparison. Your accountability and sensitivity to her pain will make a huge difference in how she responds to your compliments.
I commend you for your desire to help your wife feel cherished. Hopefully these questions and considerations can help you work with her to build more security and connection.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at [email protected]
If you or a loved one are struggling with the devastating impact of pornography issues, sexual betrayal, and relationship trauma, I have created a 6-part audio program to help married couples strengthen their recovery. You can purchase the 6-hour audio program here for a limited time at the reduced price of $29 – https://geoff-steurer.mykajabi.com/marriage-recovery
About the Author
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available at www.geoffsteurer.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). Geoff also hosts the Illuminate Podcast (https://soundcloud.com/geoff-steurer/sets/illuminate-podcast) and has produced programs and resources to help couples rebuild broken trust. He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.
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