Meeting Each Other's Physical Needs

 Dear Karen,

 Please help me figure out how to talk with my husband about the fact that he’s become kind of a “shlump” – he’s gained weight, he doesn’t really care how he dresses, and he’s not that interested in sex these days.  He was pretty hot when we first got together, and I want him to get back to the way he was.  I’ve been letting him know that I don’t like what’s going on with him.  I’m fit and attractive, like to have sex, and if he doesn’t get it together, I am going to have to go find what I need with someone else.  – Alissa, RI

 Dear Alissa,

 Your desire to have a husband you feel attracted to, and with whom you share a satisfying s-e-x life, is completely understandable – I support that 100%. 

 It’s very important for lifetime partners to try to make each other happy, and to meet each other’s most important needs.  The commitment of marriage eliminates (for the majority of people) the option of getting your needs met for attraction/romance/s-e-x outside of the marriage. 

 If you’re with a spouse who refuses to meet your needs, you’re kind of a prisoner; you can’t get what you need within the marriage, but you can’t step outside the marriage (and still honor your commitment).

 When we stand at that altar (or hilltop, or beach, or wherever we get married), we make actual promises to each other in our vows – and many people also assume unspoken commitments – about the life we’re going to share.  One of those assumed commitments would be that you both maintain yourselves in a way that nurtures attraction. 

 Now, I do want to mention something here (and I’d be holding back on you if I didn’t bring this up); it sounds like there’s a chance you’re not meeting his needs: to be appreciated, respected, admired – pick any one of those; they’re critically important to (most) men. 

 If you’re sharing your opinions and feelings about his physical condition with him the way it sounds like you might be, you are seriously compounding the problem.  (Maybe you tried being compassionate, affirming and respectful in the beginning, and then changed tactics when it didn’t seem to be working?)

 Keep in mind that what we put our attention on is what grows.

 Could it be that your focus on his “schlump”ness is creating more of what you don’t want?  Could it be that, without knowing it, you’re adding more layers to whatever is having him feel that it’s too hard for him to be the man he was, and could be again (and the one you want, and miss)?

 I know you want to learn how to communicate with him effectively, and I hope I’ve helped you see that there’s a way that will NOT work, and that’s through pointing out to him how off track he is, and how unattractive (to you) he is, at this point. 

 So, what will work?

 Not knowing this man, of course, I’m going to give you a layout of how to go about this, and you’ll have to modify to fit the particular situation, and man, you’ve got on your hands, okay?

 First step we’ve covered: stop shaming him into changing what he’s doing – that will not work.

 Next step: Find whatever sliver of attraction, interest, desire, etc. you can still muster for him…this will be important to you both; put your attention on that. 

 Steer your thinking toward anything that can help you feel good about him (using memories can be very powerful, and you’ve got a good history together…use it!).   Spend some time building this up – and don’t keep it to yourself…go “verbal”, so he gets the benefit of your praise, encouragement and acknowledgment, too! 

 Chances are you’re both a little “gun shy” when it comes to how you’re relating with each other, and any sudden and dramatic changes will (probably) be met with suspicion. 

 It’s so important for us to keep remembering that, when it comes to how a man sees himself, the most potent “mirror” he has, reflecting back to him who he is, is what he sees reflected back from the eyes – and heart – of the woman he loves. 

 If, when he turns to us, he sees love, respect, compassion, admiration, appreciation, etc., he is going to feel like more of who he is, and it will also inspire him to be more of what he sees in your eyes. 

 If, on the other hand, what’s reflected back to him is negative, it will have a tendency to make him shrink away.  He’ll be less of who he could be – and it will tend to spiral downward.

 So now that you’ve been remembering/emphasizing/encouraging all those things that feel good to you both, and you’re in a better groove together, it’s time to specifically address what you’re writing about: his physical appearance (and you may have noticed that he’s already taking better care of himself since you started “Operation Positive Reinforcement”!). 

 When the time is right – meaning that you’re both feeling connected, relaxed, and you both have time and attention for this conversation, here’s how you might want to approach him (please don’t follow this as a “script”, but rather get the idea of how this could flow and tailor it to who you are):

 You: “Honey/Baby/Sweetie (whatever your term of endearment), I want to talk with you about something important – is this a good time?”

 His response will probably be “Sure”.  If it’s “No”, honor that…you’d just be shooting yourself in the foot if you forged ahead when he’s not ready.

 You: “I love you and think you’re such a great man, and I want us to have a long, happy, healthy, sexy, vibrant life together. 

 I’m in your corner, and will always support you to be all you want to be, I hope you know that. 

 I’m wondering if there’s something that’s been bothering you that causes you to not take great care of yourself.  Have you noticed that you haven’t been treating yourself like the handsome stud you are? You don’t exercise as much as you used to, you don’t dress like you used to, and it seems like you’re just a little down. 

 What do you think about that?”

 He may deflect some or all of this – it’s okay.  It doesn’t mean he’s not listening; it’s just that it’s likely to be a lot for him to process, and he may not feel very safe.  Trust that he’ll let this percolate and that it’s going to work on him over time.

 You: “Is there something I could do help, or is there something I’m doing that isn’t supportive of you? 

 I want to know, honey.  I love you and want us to be able to enjoy our life together.”

 He may not have an answer to your question(s), but again, trust that it’s getting in there.

 You: “Well, if it’s okay with you, I’d like to visit this again soon. 

 Maybe you’ll think of something that we can work on together, or there’s something you’ll be able to tell me about what I am doing that isn’t helping…or what I could do to help.”

 He will probably agree to a future conversation (anything to have this one be finished). 

 This type of communication is tough duty for most men – so don’t think you could trade this one in for an improved model who’d be comfortable with this kind of chat.  Manage your expectations of him, and just focus on doing your part of this, which is to be supportive, encouraging, and have the reflection he sees of himself in your eyes be something he’s happy to see.

 You’ll get more of what you want by noticing and praising whatever you can that’s close to what you want; conversely, you’ll be moving farther away from getting what you want by focusing on those things that don’t work for you. 

 My final thought on this: don’t expect this to turn around overnight.  It’s taken a while to deteriorate to this point, and (re)building will take time.  Strive to be compassionate (toward both of you) as you navigate this powerful learning curve in your marriage.