Dealing with a Spouse’s Physical Appearance

Jerry King cartoon- purchased by him - physical appearanceYou marry a person whose physical appearance attracts you to him or her. And then he or she changes in such a way that the attraction is no longer there. How do you deal with this?

The first thing that comes to mind is, you deal with it VERY CAREFULLY, VERY PRAYERFULLY.

This is a very complicated and delicate issue to deal with, to say the least. It’s complicated because everyone who is dealing with it has their own takes on the matter, which brings out emotionality. And when there is emotionality involved, there are heated opinions that are often expressed.

It’s delicate because it’s almost a “no win” situation. The spouse who is turned off by the other spouse’s appearance doesn’t like the situation. And yet he or she doesn’t know how to approach the subject. (That is, unless he or she is a fool who blurts out unkind remarks.)

And the person whose appearance is in question, certainly doesn’t like the situation either. Whether you believe it or not, he or she hates this situation probably more than you do. But something is blocking their way to change matters.

A Spouse’s Appearance

Please know that this article will not address the person who blurts out crass statements to their spouse. They absolutely shouldn’t do that. Repeatedly, the Bible tells us that those who speak with haste are “fools.” And fools most often won’t listen to logical reason. (Proverbs 18:2; Proverbs 29:11; also Proverbs 18:6; Proverbs 29:11 are just a few scriptures that bring this out. You can find more in the Open Bible Info web site link: Bible Verses About Fools, and also the Bible.org study article written by Bob Deffinbaugh, The Fool.) So, this article will not address fools.

And this article will also not address a spouse’s physical appearance, where he or she cannot change what has happened to their appearance. This is where there has been an accident that happened to them, or a stroke or the situation where the normal aging process involved. It’s not that these issues do not cause problems in themselves. But the spouse who will not stand by a spouse who is dealing with physical afflictions where they have no power to change …well, that spouse is also a fool. (Again, see the above references to fools.)

Yes, it can be difficult to deal with these type of outward appearances. But those who reach out to the Lord and within for maturity will not go the route of the fool.

Being More Specific When Addressing Appearances

Instead, this article will address dealing with a spouse’s physical appearance, most specifically weight issues. (You can glean the other type of physical appearance issues from what is written on this angle. Otherwise, the subject will be reaching all over the map to be all-inclusive.)

What we’ve seen and read through our research, is that there are a lot of divorces that occur because this matter. And many more marriages are not in a good place because of it, as well.

We recently received an email from a man who has been separated from his wife for a long period of time because he decided he couldn’t live with her because of her “excessive weight” problem. We’ve also received a number of emails from others who have asked that we address this problem. So, for this reason, I’m writing this article. But it’s difficult, because there isn’t a “one size fits all” solution to “fix” this issue.

My first instinct, when I learn of someone who rejects the other spouse because of outward appearances, is to slam them with all kinds of scriptures that talk about the importance of the heart rather than the outer appearance of a person, from God’s perspective. One can be found in 1 Samuel 16:7, where God told Samuel “The Lord does not look at things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.

Another Look at God’s Word

Another one is where the Bible tells women, “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.” (1 Peter 3:3-4)

What I believe this says is that a woman is to concentrate on who she is on the inside. She is to be a woman of a “gentle and quiet spirit.” It’s not that she isn’t to care of her outward appearance. But rather that this is not to be her main focus —for herself or for her spouse.

And then we’re also told in the Bible, “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. Give her the reward she has earned, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.” (Proverbs 31:30-31)

Again, this talks about outward beauty being temporary and not as important as inward beauty.

As I was praying and researching, I came across the following article. It gives another perspective. It is written by Philip Brown and expands on this point of how God does care about outward appearances.

Read:

MAN LOOKS AT THE OUTWARD APPEARANCES, BUT GOD… 

You can see how complicated this issue can get. I still believe the other scriptures say that our physical appearance shouldn’t be our main concern. However, in context, that which is seen on the outside DOES matter to a certain extent.

So often how we present ourselves on the outside invites others in so that they want to know more about who we are within. They will then be exposed to the heart of who we are. You may say that is shallow, but it is what it is. We can fight it, but we can’t deny that it’s something we deal with in this world. If only we lived in a world that only cared about our inward heart, rather than anything outwardly! That would be heavenly, indeed. It’s something to look forward to beyond this fallen world into the next.

So, I’ll do the best I can to bring out some points for you to consider on this matter. They will come from various articles I’ve found on the Internet. Some of them you will probably not agree with, and others you may. But hopefully, this article will help some in their marital relationships to get to a better place. That is my/our hope, here at Marriage Missions.

Whether you agree with any of the insights given below or not, please pray about what we’re presenting here. And keep praying until you know what the Lord is telling YOU.

So, to start this discussion, I found an article written by Dr David B Hawkins. It is posted on Crosswalk.com and addresses what to do about a spouse’s appearance when you are turned off in some way.

Here’s how he starts off:

“In a recent advice column I shared some opinions about whether husbands or wives should be concerned about how their mate looks. I challenged you to respond as to whether love should be unconditional. I received many responses —most suggesting that it was a complex issue. Many of the responses indicated that we should never judge others by their outward appearance. And yet they should be concerned with our mate’s health. We should also be just as concerned about their inner beauty, and building our relationship on those enduring traits.

“What follows are a sampling of the responses I received”:

To read the rest, the following is a link to the article:

SHOULD A SPOUSE’S PHYSICAL APPEARANCE MATTER?

— ALSO —

Joe Beam also weighs in (pun intended) on this subject. It’s something you might benefit from reading on his web site:

• HELP! I’m No Longer Attracted to My Overweight Spouse

And then Timothy Dalrymple gives some very thought-provoking things to consider in his article:

IS IT WRONG FOR A WIFE TO LET HERSELF GO AFTER MARRIAGE?

In the next article, although it isn’t written from a spiritual standpoint, it lines up scripturally. One point it brings out is: “Your marriage vows tell you, ‘for rich or for poor’ and ‘through sickness and health.’ But where is the part about ‘through fat and skinny?'”

You may not have included that particular wording in your marriage vows but it is included in the covenant of marriage you entered into. However, there are some helpful thoughts to consider in the Lifescript.com article:

• WHAT TO DO WHEN YOUR HUSBAND IS OVERWEIGHT

Authors Steven James and David Thomas give a very different perspective as to how to approach this subject. This is particularly true when the wife asks the dreaded question whether she looks fat in a particular outfit.

Even though I’m a woman (and they aren’t), I have to say that I believe they give sound advice. Many women may not think so, but this subject cannot be approached by a “one size fits all” type of solution.

Their approach to this matter is featured in a Growthtrac.com article, which was gleaned from their book, Does This Dress Make Me Look Fat? A Man’s Guide to the Loaded Questions Women Ask. See what you think, as to whether you agree or not, as you read:

DOES THIS DRESS MAKE ME LOOK FAT?

In the next forum, you will find many different sides, which are presented. I don’t necessarily agree with all of them, but you may want to wade through them. You very well could find insights into the question:

HOW TO HELP WIFE LOSE WEIGHT

Furthermore, on this Issue of a Spouse’s Appearance

And then, here’s an article written by Michael and Amy Smalley, which focuses on what they’ve realized in dealing with Michael’s weight problem:

A SURPRISING WAY TO A STRONGER MARRIAGE

How do you you deal with your spouse’s physical appearance when it’s troubling to you? It’s certainly not by blaming or shaming, or ranting or raving. It is to be done, rather, by being prayerful and supportive in your approach.

The Bible tells us in Ephesians 4:29, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” So make sure you’re leaning on the side of benefitting them and your marriage and not just dumping emotionally on them.

The one thread that seems to run through all the articles above is that when you approach your spouse on this issue, make sure you do it in a way that is respectful and is motivated by love and concern, not negativity. Not only will the later backfire on you (who do you know who “saw the light” because a spouse berated and hurt them?), but it will strain your relationship and the situation all the more.

The following advice, which seems to be sound, comes from TheMarriageCounselingblog.com web site.

They Write:

“If you and/or your partner are overweight, make becoming healthy a high priority. Obesity is the second leading cause of preventable death among adults.

“If your partner is overweight, do not criticize him (or her). Making jokes or teasing about his (her) weight problem will not lead to motivation to become healthy. Instead, it is likely to just make him (her) feel worse about the situation. Instead, talk about your concerns and talk about how the two of you can work as a team to get healthy. Discuss strategies such as joining a gym, going for walks together, meeting with a nutritionist, or joining a weight loss support group such as Weight Watchers. Help each other plan healthy meals. Assist with shopping and preparing food, and work together to make healthier choices.

“If your spouse is not motivated to make any changes, don’t despair. And don’t nag. Nagging rarely yields results. Instead, make positive changes yourself. Almost everyone can benefit from making some more healthy diet changes and start to get exercise. Invite your spouse to go for a walk and try to encourage them to be more active.”

And finally, in my search to help both spouses, I came across an article written by author Barbara Curtis. While her way of losing weight may or may not work for you or your loved one, from what she wrote, it sure worked for her.

Enablement of a Spouses Appearance

Barbara made the statement that can ring true:

“A family can enable a fat member by offering them more food than they need. They enable by telling them they are not overweight, that you love them the way they are.

“Loving people the way they are is one thing. But loving them to death is another. Obesity kills. While in the process of losing weight, I went for a checkup and noticed that everyone in my doctor’s waiting room was overweight. When I asked him what percentage of everyday health problems he saw each day were due to overweight, he said perhaps 90%. That’s ballpark —and anecdotal —but it’s probably pretty close to the truth.”

That’s tough stuff to think about. Barbara went on to write many things that I encourage you to read in the link provided below. But this stood out to me:

“So I guess my message to anyone of the mind that by accepting a spouse who is overweight you are demonstrating unconditional love: No! That is not unconditional love. That is just being resigned to watching your spouse continue an unhealthy pattern that will affect you and your children in a negative way by encouraging denial and inauthenticity.”

In Conclusion, on the Issue of a Spouse’s Appearance

The best way I can end this article is by encouraging you with the following:

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God… For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.(1 Corinthians 10:31-33)

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ —to the glory and praise of God.(Philippians 1:9-11)

Cindy Wright of Marriage Missions International wrote this article.

We hope you’ll “join the discussion” below in this forum so that others can benefit from your encouragement. We say “encouragement” because we hope those who share, will take this subject seriously. The goal is to motivate others, rather than tear them down.

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6 responses to “Dealing with a Spouse’s Physical Appearance

  1. I think the scriptures about God looking at the inner person are in the context of spiritual matters. I.E. what is in your heart vs the outwardly visible actions. We are told the body is a temple, that we should care for it. Getting zero exercise save running off at the mouth and jumping to conclusions is not a Godly way of living. Sitting on the sofa, mindlessly shoveling food into our mouths isn’t what God had in mind for us.

    We say we love God, but feed our children from the drive thru? We say we love our spouse, but apparently not enough to make healthy choices about what and how we eat and exercising our bodies. If you know your appearance is a turn off to your spouse, but expect them to change instead of doing everything you can do to address the issue, do you really love your spouse? I contend that you’re not acting out of love if you try to shift the problem to your spouse.

    There are no real downsides to being in the best health you can possibly be. I have been heavy and I have been healthy and I can say that now that I am nearly back to an ideal weight, my quality of life is much higher. I no longer need BP meds, I don’t become winded doing tasks around home, sex is much much better for both of us. My wife knows that the healthier me has a much greater chance of being around for her, increasing the chances that until death do us part is a longer time compared to when I was well over 270#.

    God may look at the heart. However it is also true that you will be known by your fruit. If your fruit is the product of fast food, purchased at the drive thru and consumed on the sofa, then I question the health of your soul.

    As for me and my family, we will be out on the trails, riding our bikes, or in a park playing Frisbee, or preparing for a 5k, or mud run, or hiking. That way, we can keep up with our kids and benefit from the bodies that the Lord created for us. We honor God when we are wise stewards of our bodies. When we allow the to become fat and out of shape, do we honor God with the creation he entrusted us with? I say no. So your outward appearance provides spiritual insight regarding how you honor God in the care of the gifts you were given.

    1. Still exercising. My daughter and I did a triathlon this year. At 1/3rd of my age, she was faster than me in 2 out of 3 events, swimming and running. But I had the overall better time of the two of us as I was much faster on the bicycle. One can strive to remain fit, in their 50’s, 60’s and even beyond.

    2. Thank you. I appreciate your post. I am a man as well. This has been a struggle for us in our marriage as well. We have been to a counsellor many times. There is a fundamental divide between us. I believe, as you have clearly said above, and yes taking into account multiple sources and verses, that each of us is the temple of the Holy Spirit – God’s creation – His hands and feet. We are stewards of what we have. Do we glorify Him, or make excuses, avoid responsibility, and not care for what we have (more than just our bodies)?

      My wife has basically said that appearance doesn’t matter, but that only the heart matters, that you love a person. Her language is often avoidant – and I’m sorry, I love her but she makes excuses then doesn’t try to change. Everyone can improve themself. Everyone.

      I told her and the counsellor that I believe that your appearance shows love for your spouse. It takes effort and work, it directly shows love, respect, importance – or not. It is a direct reflection of your mindset and heart. It draws people together or drives them apart.

      Many Christian and Jewish teachers talk about how appearance is important in relationships, that men need that to feel respected, loved, important, valued.

      She will make excuses about being 15 or more years older (age alone can’t be blamed), liking comfortable clothing when we dated, or early in marriage, and all sorts of tangents or excuses. The ‘reasons’ are heavy on subjectivity, trying to “prove” she is fine and I am too critical, how women don’t usually look nice at home.

      This is the core issue, when we are together her default choice is comfort. Clothes that are at least a size too big, no bra, long compression socks up to the knees, men’s boxer shorts or underwear, and Crocs. In public she’ll wear an XL t-shirt, XL shorts (both too big), and a fanny pack to walk around. We are only in our 40’s.

      She will dress nicer for work, church, appointments, but when gets home rapidly it goes back to comfort. I mentioned concern for depression; she said she is not depressed, “God loves me the way I am; I am happy with myself…” I see all that as defeatist language, avoidant, excuses.

      She has gained I’ll guess 40 pounds or so over the past 5-6 years. I ask about exercise, helped her with it in the past, she used to do regular workouts. She only works 1 day per week and we have an elementary child. She has tons of free and flexible time every week. She mentioned some knee pain so can’t do certain leg exercises, but can still walk and do other exercise, pushups, curls, presses, abs, mobility, etc. – she has just chosen to stop everything for a while now.

      I was heavier in Junior high because I ate too much food and didn’t exercise. Then I started wrestling and track work, and it really helped. Over time I started doing workouts, and kept learning how to make myself better. I’m not an ultimate athlete, but I am pursuing health.

      I exercise a few times each week and train martial arts. I feel that this has really helped me stay healthy, balanced, coordinated, and strong. I can always improve. It is a mindset of quality, a lifestyle to pursue excellence. Making excuses will not produce results.

      A woman might say I’m superficial. I am a man – men care about appearance. That is how God wired us. That is a significant factor in how you meet a woman, date, etc. It matters. I take care of how I look everyday and never dress way down or look like a bum. My appearance shows love to my wife. I can’t get her to understand how important it is for a man to see his wife take pride in her appearance. Don’t women like to see their man look good too? She said she doesn’t really care about that.

      It is so hard to see women at work, church, neighbors, errands, etc. that look good and care about it. Very hard. She has female friends that always look amazing every time I see them, they just do it and don’t make excuses. I even asked if she would consider a mentor or woman to help her with things, she got offended and said she wasn’t going to give up the comfort just for me, and that I was just asking that because she was not good enough!

      I am praying for God to break down whatever this darkness is that holds my wife back, yes I love her and I have been trying for more than 10 years to be compassionate, but frankly she is being irresponsible and yes lazy with her self-care. Her default language is subjective, she makes excuses, blames a number of things, or attacks me, or tries to shame or scold me, or seek power in our relationship? I want to say, “stop being lazy, stop making excuses, just start doing the work – even 1 step at a time.”

      I thought that she would eventually ‘snap out of it’, and I compliment her when she looks nice. I thought if I make good health and fitness choices it would ‘pull her up’, but she doesn’t seem to care. I think she just wants to ‘coast’ through life, and not be held accountable. To me that dishonors you, God, and your spouse.

      We both have needs, I mentioned to the counsellor that I have not said how I really feel for a long time. I was too agreeable for years, buried the sadness, displeasure, and then I blew up. I have needs too! Each of us should have the desire to show love to our spouse as they need to be loved. We can love the heart, the mind, but we are mind, body, and spirit, God’s creations. Appearance matters.

      I mentioned at the counsellor that I know appearance isn’t ‘the most important thing’ – but it is STILL important in a man-woman relationship. It is always important. My wife expressed the opinion that she wished appearance wasn’t important.

      I am praying for deliverance, for her to wake up and embrace her femininity and care, that God would transform her, and send women/men/people to help her realize that taking pride in your appearance directly shows love to your spouse, and then your marriage and friendship blossoms and grows! I pray for wisdom to know what to say, do, pray, and be.

      At the last counsellor meeting we talked more about these issues; it is tough. I said I am praying and working to balance speaking needs (yes, BOTH of us have needs that we need to make known) and having compassion. How to be ‘good’, and that doesn’t always mean “nice” – as Jesus did (He showed love but called out wrong behaviour).

      I want us to be good, close, passionate, excited, awesome in all we do. I rebuke any spirits of darkness that are perpetuating division between us, and any lies she is hearing that may make her not value herself.

      I wish I could talk with a woman who understood these things, and then that woman could talk to my wife to help her realize how important this issue is to our marriage, and how much I need her to be a woman and care about it, to embrace her femininity.

  2. Thank you for including so many different points of view. This really is a “no win” situation. Having been on the receiving end of “you’ve let yourself go” & “I’m not attracted to you anymore” (within a year of giving birth), I found that not only did it kill my (fragile old me/new mom) self-esteem but that it also killed my own loving feelings toward my spouse (in addition to other remarks/comments & negative behaviors on his part).

    All I can say is that it’s just a (poor) reflection of him. So what if I might be a little heavier after two kids & recovering from cancer surgery? So what if I jiggle more or have more cellulite than I used to? For my age & height, I am still in my normal weight range. I try to eat right. I can run around with my kids. I realized that I really didn’t care what his opinion of how I looked was; it was more important what my opinion of myself was. Am I perfect? Not by any means, thankfully. Am I a work in progress? Definitely.

    While I totally get men are visual, I think he (in particular & some men at large) failed to recognize that MY worth doesn’t derive from how I look. No one’s worth comes from what they look like. Was I attracted to him in the beginning of our marriage, more to his personality & sense of humor than his looks? Unfortunately the “real” personality came to light after the vows had been spoken. He quickly went from hero to zero. If you’re having problems with your spouse’s appearance, whether it’s something they can or cannot control, look at yourself first. Are you projecting your own dissatisfaction or insecurities about how you think you look/how you feel about yourself? How would you if the roles were reversed?

    1. Way too late, I’m sure. but when I got fat my wife totally didn’t give a crap. Heart disease, GERD, neuropathy – I was losing feeling in my fingers and toes. She didn’t care as long as she got to eat her sweets and Mt. Dew. Junk food is addictive. It’s killing our marriage. It was killing me. I’ve escaped, but it’s hard when no one around you will help. Beauty starts inside. If you’re so sick inside that it’s pushing it’s way out you’re no longer “beautiful” on the inside you’re just in denial.