Caring for your spouse by caring for yourself

Dear Shaunti, I am definitely not the size I was when I married my husband. But honestly, 4 kids and 25 years later, I don’t see it ever happening. The problem is that I recently overheard my brother saying something about how happy he was, now that his wife was getting in shape. It irritated the stew out of me… but it also got me thinking. How important do you think it is to my husband that I’m not in shape anymore? We married for “better or for worse”, right? – Plus Size Sue

Dear Plus Size Sue,
Oh man, I have definitely walked some time in your shoes! I’ve only had two kids, but I definitely have a body type and a metabolism that seems to gain weight if I barely smell the chocolate chip cookies across the room! So I totally understand your concern and your irritation, sister.

That said, I also need to be honest. It is awkward to discuss, but the answer is very, very clear in my research. It is true that our husbands have married us “for better or for worse” and “it’s what’s on the inside that matters”. The trouble is, sometimes that can lead us into thinking that what’s on the outside doesn’t matter. But to our man, it does. (At least according to the thousands of men I’ve surveyed.)

The reason it matters is probably because guys are so visually wired. This is going to sound unbelievably old-fashioned (I can see the angry emails already…), but at the most basic level, men simply enjoy looking at this woman they are married to! Believe it or not, this is part of their happiness in marriage – and it has a biological root. In the male brain (unlike a female brain), a man’s visual circuits are very connected to his emotional circuits. In my research for my book about men it shocked me to learn that almost every man cares if his wife is out of shape or never tries to look nice, and does not make a real effort to change.

Now, that said, there is also really good news for you and me and any woman like us: our husbands don’t expect us to shrink back down to our honeymoon bikinis. That’s not what they are talking about. In fact, 5 out of 6 men on my survey agreed that what mattered most to them was not hitting a particular size or a number on the scale, but simply seeing that she was making the effort to take care of herself for him. Even the effort to do her hair and makeup just for him – instead of just when they were going out with other people – made him happy. But it was the effort that mattered.

That effort to be healthy and energetic sends an important message to our husbands. It says “I care about you enough to take care of myself for you.” And although it may absolutely sound old-fashioned, I have seen in my own life that sending the message that we care (rather than the message that we don’t) has far-reaching impacts that go far beyond this one issue and truly do bless the whole relationship.

Shaunti Feldhahn is the best-selling author of eye-opening, research-based books about men, women and relationships, including For Women Only, For Men Only and her newest, The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages. A Harvard-trained social researcher and speaker, her findings are regularly featured in media as diverse as The Today Show, Focus on the Family, and the New York Times.

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About Shaunti Feldhahn

Shaunti Feldhahn is the best-selling author of eye-opening, research-based books about men, women and relationships, including For Women Only, For Men Only, The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages and her newest, The Good News About Marriage. A Harvard-trained social researcher and speaker, her findings are regularly featured in media as diverse as The Today Show, Focus on the Family, and the New York Times. Shaunti speaks regularly at churches, conferences, and corporate events. Learn more about speaking inquiries here.


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