Ask a feminist

// 26 June 2008

Here’s the latest in our ‘Ask a feminist’ series. If you would like to submit a question for us to get our teeth in to please don’t hesitate to do so here.

The responses are made at the personal discretion of the individual contributors, and there are no rules saying what can or cannot be said. But let us know what you think, we’d love to hear from you.

Dear F Word

I have been married to my wife for 17 years and it’s depressing to see her letting herself go. We used to have fun, last time we had fun was last year in Italy,but she had a tooth fall out and from then on it’s been an up hill struggle. We have had bad times all round,money problems, I had time off work and it’s getting unbearable. I know my sexy wife and mother of three children is still in there. I have tried everything I can to bring her out again. I buy her clothes, even tell her she is sexy and I love her, but to no avail,help!

What’s the answer?

Yours hoping

Desperate Husband

Dear Desperate Husband

You have said that you have done a lot and see a sexy woman in your wife and I take your word for it. It is, in my view, a right attitude and is to be commended. If only more husbands were doing the same as you do!

You tried all the right things but haven’t mentioned two other important ones. First, you should try becoming more physically attractive for your wife too. I cannot help asking in response to your lament that she is “letting herself go”: are YOU letting YOURSELF go too? Because it is unfortunately far too often that husbands who grew gut and butt and went completely to seed still take it upon themselves to criticise their wives for no longer being the sexy 18 year old they fell in love with!

Make an extra effort in dressing up when you are going out together, try to look good at home too; buy some new clothes for yourself as well. She will notice this and will have an incentive to measure up too. But expecting her to do all the work on herself without doing the same yourself is neither fair nor productive. Looking good for her is also a very important way to show affection and respect for your partner. It shows that you care what she thinks of you. It means you care whether she finds you sexually attractive. (You shouldn’t assume that our partners’ looks are less important for us women than ours are for you. Honestly, I wouldn’t find my husband sexually attractive if he suddenly cut down on number of showers, wore old clothes, didn’t look after his hands, had less than fresh breath and didn’t know what aftershave is. Fortunately his love for me, and realisation that he is married to a woman 14 years younger than he is, keeps him on his toes)

Second, could it be that years of your sitting back and letting her do all the housework and caring for the kids aged her prematurely? It is known that women age and look worn out because they do far too much at home and their husbands don’t do enough. The women who take part in the program “10 years younger” look much older and more tired than their partners, who live on the same income and have the same diet. How come? Then you see this woman’s day: packing kids off to school, going to work, returning home to cook and clean and what does the hubby do? Off he pisses to a pub with mates or to play football, looking all cheerful and sprightly, and we are all invited to sympathize with his sexual needs not being met by an aged tired wife who hates her body! Little wonder then.

So if you don’t want her hands to look rough, do the washing up yourself. If you don’t want her to be too tired for sex, relieve her of the domestic slog. Give her time for herself – be it a walk, meeting with friends, or a visit to a hairdresser or a beauty salon – by doing yourself what she usually does at home. Honestly, the older a woman looks than her real age, the more it shows her husband’s selfishness! Men should be judged by the way how healthy or relaxed their wives look.

You mentioned money problems. It ages both partners and can sometimes undermine the relationship itself. If one of the partners is out of employment, it complicates the matters, and it is easy to be too harsh to a partner in this situation. The important thing to remember is to try not to take it out on another, and not to lump all problems together. As you went through bad times together, tell her that it is important to be defiant in the face of difficulties that life throws at you, at least by not giving up on yourself and not living like you were defeated. And not looking like one. Maybe your wife has other problems you didn’t mentioned, maybe there is something more painful in her life than ageing and losing good looks. It is not to say that she shouldn’t try for you, it is to say that you should be understanding and subtle. Tell her that any age has beauty. Let her stop thinking (if she does) that once something happen (first wrinkle, tooth falling out, etc) this is the end. It is not.

It is good that after 17 years together and 3 children you are finding some time to spend together, like the time in Italy last year. Maybe the more time she spends with you the less she will think of herself as “just Mum” and will start seeing herself as an individual, a woman, a partner. As someone who has needs too and respects herself enough to care of her body and health.

Irina Lester

Photo by Stéfan, shared under a Creative Commons license

Comments From You

Rachel // Posted 26 June 2008 at 7:45 pm

I think it’s important to note that it was after she lost a tooth that things went down hill. DH didn’t mention how it was that she lost that tooth, but usually that’s health related. Having problems with our teeth are indicative of other health issues. Like depression. I think DH should talk to his wife and get to to see a doctor to assess whether she is depressed. It could be chemical, it could be a vitamin deficiency, but I know that for me, if I was to lose a tooth I would feel very poorly about my self image and want to be holed up in my apartment all day, rather than having fun. She’s probably depressed, and telling her over and over that you love her and think she’s sexy is a wonderful thing to do, but it’s not going to cure her depression.

DH, take your wife to a doctor.

Another Rachel // Posted 26 June 2008 at 8:25 pm

Hey Rachel, just to clarify, on what basis do you say that tooth loss is related to depression, I don’t quite follow? The jump from poor self image to depression is quite a big one.

Also, I am the only one thats cynical of any letter starting with a complete that his wife has ‘let herself go’? I’m unclear what the problem is , is is that his wife doesn’t look good enough more or that she’s having a hard time emotionally?

E-Visible Woman // Posted 26 June 2008 at 9:54 pm

Frankly, I’m baffled as to why on earth ‘Desperate Husband’ thought feminists were the best people to write to when he’s upset that his woman has ‘let herself go’.

Especially considering the only real problem that he mentions is that he no longer has his ‘sexy wife’… now, this could be interpreted a lot of ways, but the bit about buying new clothes makes it sound like he’s peeved she won’t dress up in sexy underwear for him and be his sexual plaything anymore…

Anne Onne // Posted 26 June 2008 at 10:58 pm

Desperate Husband,

As men and women age, our bodies change. Up to a point, changes in our bodies do not mean that we have ‘let ourself go’, but that we are mortal biological beings showing our age. If we’re talking about really bad hygeine, this sould be something to discuss with your partner, but ‘letting yourself go’ has really bad connotations for women, normally being used to imply that because older women don’t look like 20 year olds, they aren’t loveable. It may not have occured to you, but it could be this pressure to look good, and the horrifying realisation that she’s ageing, and that society is telling her she’s not good enough, that ageing makes her a second-class woman. Unlike older men, women are often reminded that age is not desirable in women, and we are made to feel guilty for ageing, an unstoppable, natural process in a way men are not.

Many women ‘let themselves go’ because they believe there’s no hope, that they can’t be the picture of perfection they are led to believe women should be, so they might as well not bother. She could have real insecurities that may or may not be exacerbated by your relationship.

Naturally, appearance plays a part in attraction, but as has been stated, sexual attraction is important to both men and women. It’s fair enough to expect a partner to wash frequently, and have basic hygeine, but it’s not fair to expect either party to put in a lot of time and effort into appearance if they don’t want to, especially when they would not ask it of you.

Since you mention money problems, it could be that you are both very stressed, and intimacy is the first thing to suffer when relationships are under strain.

The most important thing is communication. Talk to your wife. It is probably worth talking to Relate, or getting marriage counselling together, or apart if you can’t do together. But definitely talk. So much can be done with patient, kind discussion, in all relationships as well as intimate ones.

When women (and men) have troubles and lose interest in themselves and relationships, there are external reasons, often involving both partners, and this needs to be discussed, to find the reason. It could be she feels run down, that she has too much on her hands, that she feels ignored and that she does everything. Women tend to bear all the stress of a household, balancing the home tasks, and society trains women to carry the emotional burdens of relationships. If you’re not spending time with her, or lightening her load, she may well feel resentment towards you if she has an unending pile of work, and she feels you don’t do your fare share.

These dynamics are common in relationships because they stem from the patriarchical division of household labour. Also, if you are only approaching her intimately when you want sex, she may feel that you don’t appreciate her aside of that. There’s a lot to be said for making time for intimacy, and helping with the chores so that she’s less tired, and has more time for romance.

I second seeing a doctor, because there may be health factors involved, whether mild or severe, and it’s good to know what you’re dealing with.

Finally, a warning that it may not be possible to salvage what you once had. It could be that neither of you find each other attractive, and that you have nothing in common. Only by talking will you know where you stand.

It may be the right thing to examine where the relationship is at, and if you still want to be together. If this is the case, the right thing to do is to end it, not complain that you don’t like how she looks.

Good luck.

Feminist Avatar // Posted 27 June 2008 at 2:30 pm

When I am least ‘fun’, I am usually overworked and/or stressed. So make sure your wife isn’t overburdened by making sure you do more than your fair share of the housework (seriously- give her a break), ask whether there is anything you can do to help her, and check whether there is any way you can relieve her stress. It may be she just needs someone to notice and listen.

Also, you need to think seriously about what you want from a ‘sexy’ wife. Is it what she wants? There is a difference (as many people have pointed out) from not washing or dressing and being forced to dress in a way she personally finds unacceptable. Could it be that you want her to dress younger than she feels is appropriate for her age? Or in clothing that is uncomfortable? People’s fashion sense and sense of what is appropriate changes as they age. She will be a different person from twenty years ago, but this doesn’t mean she is necessarily less ‘fun’, or that you can’t have a strong marriage that meets both your needs.

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