I want to not need this validation.
February 22, 2013 7:55 AM   Subscribe

I think I have a problem with self esteem. Objectively, I know that I am a physically attractive person. This has been confirmed by plenty of people throughout my life. I want more than anything to be told by my husband that I am beautiful in certain ways, but he can't or won't. I don't want to need something from him that he is unable to give. How can I either stop focusing on this, or learn how to validate myself without his input?

We have a pretty great relationship, and I think we communicate our needs well. There's no question that I turn him on - he has no problem saying so and showing it. Even as I'm formulating this question in my head, I realise how silly and petty it sounds, because here's the thing: on a fairly regular basis, he will make comments like, "You look good." But through further discussion, it's become clear that he's commenting more on my clothes and body rather than on my face when he says that.

I have explicitly asked him in the past, "Do you think I'm beautiful?" and his response is always, "I'm really attracted to you," but never, "Yes, you are beautiful." I don't know why I'm so hung up on him confirming beauty, but it's just that all the times he's commented on my looks, it feels like he's using weasel words or going out of his way not to say "beautiful" (or similar level words). The closest he may have come is saying, "I think you're pretty." If it were anyone else in the world, them saying that would be a really lovely compliment, and I would accept it with grace and feel good about it, but for some reason, from him, it doesn't feel like enough.

For a long time, he never said anything, and I had to (several times) explicitly ask him to give me compliments before we got to where we are now. He has said in the past that he feels nervous and awkward making such comments, especially making them too soon after I've prompted them, because then they're not "real." I feel shallow and petty for getting worked up about this, and I realise that I'm totally splitting hairs with this pretty-or-beautiful bs (and also realise that constantly badgering your partner for validation is the complete opposite of attractive).

But I'm obviously craving this from him, and I don't want to feel so bad when I don't receive it. How can I get the fuck over myself, or work on validating myself?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (33 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
I have explicitly asked him in the past, "Do you think I'm beautiful?" and his response is always, "I'm really attracted to you," but never, "Yes, you are beautiful."

Wow, I'm sorry he is clueless. There is only one acceptable answer to that question.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 7:58 AM on February 22, 2013 [34 favorites]

Shit, I'd insist.

"Dude, I'm feeling kind of needy right now, tell me how beautiful I am."

Anyone who won't, is an ass.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:11 AM on February 22, 2013 [11 favorites]

You have tried direct communication, good for you. But it didn't work (and yeah, I agree with RB his reply is clueless and hurtful). I would talk to a third person you know is diplomatic and has a good relationship with him and have that person talk to him about how hurtful his behaviour would be to anyone. I am not usually in favour of triangulation but clearly he is missing some essential relationship skills and he is not learning anything from your discussions.

Passive-aggressively, the next time you have sex be sure to include lots of hot talk about his average penis, his adequate effort and how nice the sex is. /jk
posted by saucysault at 8:15 AM on February 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

On preview, I got TB and RB mixed up, sorry. Too many damn bunnies around here.
posted by saucysault at 8:16 AM on February 22, 2013 [5 favorites]

For a long time, he never said anything, and I had to (several times) explicitly ask him to give me compliments before we got to where we are now.

It sounds like he listens to you and has learned to do better over time. This is much better than the results many people get from their partners on this sort of thing.

...on a fairly regular basis, he will make comments like, "You look good."

I suspect your husband loves you and is very attracted to you, and that he is being totally honest when he says he "feels nervous and awkward making such comments, especially making them too soon after I've prompted them."

If using the prescribed words is that important, I think you should explicitly tell him to tell you that you are beautiful. Smile, and say "Tell me I'm beautiful." Repeat every so often until he makes a habit of using the right words on his own.
posted by General Tonic at 8:17 AM on February 22, 2013 [3 favorites]

This book will help you, I believe. It's whole purpose is to undo the mental mechanism that needs validation from others.
posted by jbickers at 8:18 AM on February 22, 2013 [5 favorites]

Well, this is probably a big fucking bummer, but it's been on my mind this week with regard to worrying about personal appearance: My 81 year old grandmother was diagnosed with end-stage cancer on Monday, while I'm obsessively counting every calorie despite being at a healthy weight because I think I need to lose ten pounds. So my grandmother's diagnosis is making me think a lot the last few days about how she spent her entire life focused on the exact same thing I am right now, and how it literally never mattered even a small amount. People didn't love her because she looked a certain way. They loved her because of who she actually was. And it is clear that your husband loves you and is attracted to you. You need to appreciate that and concentrate on what he's showing you through his actions, rather than placing unreasonable demands on specific words coming out of his mouth. At best, that's going to make things awkward, and I think you're probably right that your overt asking for specific compliments is probably the main thing keeping him from making them. It's the same idea as why I personally believe it's futile to ask someone for an apology - it's easy for people to say things you tell them to say without them meaning it. If you tell him to say stuff and then he says it, does that suddenly make something true that wasn't true before?

For what it's worth, I have been in a relationship with my husband since we were 17 years old and I know I'm the center of his universe in every meaningful way, and I can't recall him ever calling me "beautiful", specifically.
posted by something something at 8:23 AM on February 22, 2013 [23 favorites]

On the things-you-can-do-for-yourself side, Cognitive Behavorial Therapy is a widely used therapy for poor self-esteem. It involves learning to overcome negative thoughts and embrace positive ones. It might be something to consider.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:33 AM on February 22, 2013

I have explicitly asked him in the past, "Do you think I'm beautiful?"

Here is the problem: You are not explicitly asking for what you want. This is basically fishing. You need to tell him: "Hey, you know what, sometimes I just need to be told I'm beautiful. Using those words. 'You're beautiful.' I need to hear it. It's a thing. I love you and you're awesome and it means so much to hear it from you. You can think it's me being dumb or whatever but please just humor me, okay?"

To which he may say,

he feels nervous and awkward making such comments, especially making them too soon after I've prompted them, because then they're not "real."

And then you say, "Hey - I'm a person. I get to have a neurosis or two, you know? I don't really care so much about 'real,' I just want to hear it. Like when a guy holds a woman when she's sad and he goes, 'There, there,' and they both know those words don't mean anything at all but it's The Done Thing and it helps. Okay?"

And if he's cool, he'll get it.

One final piece of advice that will address your original issue and probably help in other relationship areas as well:

If you are in a relationship, and you are about to ask your partner a question, and there is only one correct response to that question, and any response but the correct one would upset you even if only a little, you will save both people a lot of trouble if you don't phrase it as a question.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 8:48 AM on February 22, 2013 [66 favorites]

This is an issue for some people, I suspect because it's a major issue of vulnerability to be this honest. My wife and I have had plenty of conversations in the other direction. I'd like to hear, for example, that I'm respected for my contributions to the family. This means more to me than other expressions of love. However, in the past, if I've made this need known, it's been a sticking point and I could pretty much count on not hearing it. She just couldn't get the words out, even if I said, "Could you just say it like this?" Nope, not happening. I don't now if it was a matter of being put on the spot to say something uncomfortable, if she actually lost respect for having to be asked, or what. All I know is that it was literally very difficult (if not impossible) for her to get out the words I was wanting to hear.

For my wife, I suspect that much of it was backlash that she received as a child for sharing honestly about her feelings, and for some people, certain emotional expressions cause a lot of vulnerability in this area. The thing that has been working for us is 1) talking honestly about needs in this area; 2) cutting some slack and allowing this to develop piece-meal, while not allowing #1 to be forgotten; and 3) potentially some professional counseling to talk through these issues, which is not only helpful for validating needs in this regard, but giving some tools on how to make steady progress towards a goal and dealing with the underlying issues that prevent honest and potentially vulnerable communication.

I wouldn't say it's perfect now, but what has improved it is that my wife has been working on it in baby-steps. She realized, for example, that she could say thank you more often regarding things I've done, even if she couldn't elaborate more on why she appreciated them. I agreed to be content with this for awhile. Slowly but surely, she's been making effort to open up a bit more on these things. What has helped me be patient with this is taking a really close look at my own communication deficiencies (we all have them, I think). She is quick to forgive me and has been very patient. What would be problematic is if this was a holding pattern in which there was no progress for us. In this case, I'd be asking why honest communication might not be happening more, and why professional help is either not working or has not been an option.
posted by SpacemanStix at 8:56 AM on February 22, 2013 [8 favorites]

I find being prompted for a compliment like that somewhat creepy. My wife does it occasionally and it makes me feel uncomfortable. So basically, I feel the same way as your husband.

I don't hand out compliments like they are candy at Halloween. If I praise something, I really mean it. Is he generous with praise for other things? If not, perhaps it would help you to think of any compliment from him being worth far more than the same word from someone else.
posted by nolnacs at 9:01 AM on February 22, 2013

I was in a situation similar to yours. I poked and prodded about why my partner didn't tell me I was beautiful, like ever. Finally, it came out that it made him feel bad about himself, because he was self-conscious of his looks, felt that I was more attractive than he was, and so decided (sub-consciously?) to never bring up appearances.

I'm not saying this is what your husband is doing, but there can be many reasons why he's uncomfortable with using the word "beautiful," and most likely they have nothing to do with you or how he feels about you. Would it help for you to think of it that way?

As for what you can do on your own, if I'm feeling self-conscious about my appearance, I ask myself what would make me feel beautiful? That sweater, this eye makeup, whatever, independent of whatever compliments I may or may not get when wearing those things. Beauty rituals, like doing your nails or taking a long bath with a mask on? It's sort of silly, and of course our physical appearance doesn't define us as humans, but I've found these things can help.
posted by dysh at 9:19 AM on February 22, 2013 [7 favorites]

I don't think your husband is either clueless or an ass. As usual on AskMeFi, I suspect some of the advice being given here would be different if the genders were reversed..

You acknowledge that this is silly and petty, and it is. Your husband has voiced concern over compliments being "not real" when you prompt them. If I were him, I might feel like each time I have to pay a compliment to you on demand, I'd be further encouraging this sort of behavior. So even if I did think you looked great (or were even forced to use the specific word "beautiful"), I might be hesitant or conflicted about furthering this bizarre ritual.

I personally like Famous Monster's answer above...it's true that everyone has quirks, and spouses just have to accept some of them. Maybe just tell your husband this directly. But then you, yourself, should also try to accept his quirk: that he may never quite understand that some questions are asked in which there is only one right answer.
posted by see_change at 9:20 AM on February 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

It's fine to tell him that you need to be told that you're beautiful. But you also might try telling him that you need to feel validated as beautiful, and try brainstorming with him ways to a) have him validate you, and b) make it so that you can improve your self-esteem such that you don't need it so much.

Although as a decidedly non-beautiful person, I also have to nth the advice above about how what's important is that he love you for who you are. You might consider some therapy around why it's your beauty that you most feel a need to have validated.
posted by ldthomps at 9:27 AM on February 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

I like this kind of validation too, and my other half forgets sometimes, or doesn't do it quite right. This doesn't matter too much though because I like to be very direct about asking for what I want, in the same way as I might say "you forgot to put your washing away, can you please do it now?". Making it funny is my favourite tactic, and if it can be cute and funny then even better. Examples:

Me: would you say that you generally prefer Megan Fox, Beyonce, or me?
Him: you are more beautiful than both of them combined, with added Scarlett Johanssen

Me: of all the ladies, and all the men that are so hot they might turn you gay, who would you say is the one you think is the loveliest of all of them?
Him: you are of course the loveliest of all of the ladies and hot gay men except for Certain Exceptions who we have both agreed we would leave each other for eg. Chris Thile

This depends on your preferred humour with your partner but it works for me :)
posted by greenish at 9:29 AM on February 22, 2013 [8 favorites]

I would much rather have a partner who is personally attracted to me and states that, than one who "objectively" states that I am attractive but is maybe not attracted to me. "You are beautiful" has much less meaning to me than "I am attracted to you."

You are halfway there: this isn't about whether he thinks you are beautiful (there are myriad ways to show that without using the prescripted words) but something about the way you are framing your opinion of yourself. It's almost a cliche here, but I strongly recommend Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Even if you are able to teach him to use the words, he can probably say them over and over and it won't really help--you will only think he's doing it because you asked him to, and you're back at square one.
posted by epanalepsis at 9:35 AM on February 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

You might try a thought experiment: Suppose your husband really doesn't think that you're objectively beautiful. (I doubt this is the case, but just pretend for a minute that it's absolute truth.) What changes? Do you love him less? Do you feel fear that he'll leave? How does it change things between you?

I found when I did this experiment that I cared far less about my partner finding me beautiful, than I did about him wanting to be with me. And empirically, I could conclude that he wanted to be with me (because he was with me). Even if he had never found me beautiful, even for a second, he had still chosen to be with me because he was attracted to me, even if I was imperfect. Which meant, awesomely, that I had the liberty to be imperfect. (Around this time I stopped wearing makeup 100% of the time, not at all coincidentally.)

Now, you may reach a different conclusion, or may find that the same conclusion isn't comforting, I dunno. But it really helped me let go of fishing for that particular compliment.
posted by like_a_friend at 9:38 AM on February 22, 2013 [10 favorites]

I can empathize. I could have written this question. My husband is the same way. I have been married almost 15 years, together for 20.

I suspect my husband is a lot like yours. Like your husband, he is nervous and awkward about giving such compliments. My husband is a serious and honest person and feels very uncomfortable blowing smoke, exaggerating, embellishing, or stroking egos. He just does not do it. He doesn't like being prompted for compliment giving either. It's insincere and kind of needy but I totally understand where you're coming from.

Like you and your husband, we are hot for one another. We have a good relationship and love being together and a lot of his compliments are on clothes and my body a lot of the time. He also gives generic compliments sometimes, unprompted, such as, "You look nice." It used to torture me a bit that he would not give me more spontaneous, romantic compliments. I always had to ask and that bothered me. Now it doesn't. I know him and I use what we does and behaves as proof that he finds me attractive. I have to accept him for who he is.

Everybody needs a little boost sometimes and some validation from their partner. When I need this, I ask, "Do you think I'm pretty? Do you think I look good." He always says, "Of course, you look really good" and gives me a hug. That's enough. I feel good about that. My self-esteem has improved a lot over the years and I do not need him to tell me I'm beautiful. Beautiful is a heavy word. If you have a Honest Abe type husband like I do he's not going to say it. My husband thinks Charlize Theron is beautiful. I don't look like Charlize Theron. I fall into the pretty category. It's reality and I'm not discounting myself, I'm just being realistic. There are a lot of husbands who tell their wives they are beautiful. My husband is not one of them because that is not his personality.

My parents told me a lot growing up how pretty I was. I always felt pretty attractive because they were telling me and my sister so much. They valued physical attractiveness like a lot of families do. In tenth grade I had a close, beautiful friend. Not pretty, BEAUTIFUL. In our senior year she lived with my family. I started to feel a little jealous and annoyed by her. Maybe not because of her beauty but because my family was doing a lot for her and I thought she was ungrateful (she wasn't, that was my own weird deal). Anyway, I once said something to my mother like "She's prettier than me" and my mom told me something along the lines of, oh well get over it. In my immature 17-year-old mind I thought I was always the most beautiful to my mother. I was her beautiful cherished child but I wasn't the prettiest. Not sure why I'm telling this story. My point is that you are the most cherished to your husband. Don't get hung up on being the most attractive.

My advice is to stop asking him if you are beautiful. Take what he does and says already as validation. Concentrate more on appreciating yourself and loving who you are without any exterior validation. I also think you'll feel better if you give him more sincere compliments, if you aren't already.
posted by Fairchild at 9:38 AM on February 22, 2013 [8 favorites]

Your husband thinks you're attractive, and he tells you that. It hurts when someone never compliments you, but it sounds like he does. He's not giving you the exact words that you want to hear, but he he's pretty damn close.

Why does it matter if you're beautiful? Do you want to be a model? Seriously - why does it matter? Let's say your husband doesn't think you're objectively beautiful. (He might, but let's just say, for a moment, that he doesn't). But he is attracted to you, he thinks you look good, and more importantly, he loves you and is committed to you.

I would much rather have a partner who is personally attracted to me and states that, than one who "objectively" states that I am attractive but is maybe not attracted to me. "You are beautiful" has much less meaning to me than "I am attracted to you."

Yes! I don't want to overstate my own attractiveness, but I am very pretty. And I've dated a lot of guys who weren't ultimately attracted to me. They thought I was attractive. They thought that they'd won some sort of prize, having hot date, but when it came down to it, they weren't that into me. Overly effusive compliments about my looks creep me out. I hate feeling like a piece of meat.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 9:55 AM on February 22, 2013 [4 favorites]

I second what somethingsomething said. As a husband, I would feel very uncomfortable with my wife trying to strong arm me into making compliments for the sake of making compliments. To be sincere and meaningful, it would have to originate from me, not just be a bounce back of what she wants me to say. But furthermore, I would step back and ponder the question of why you feel you need him to say your face is beautiful. Why does he not need you to say his face is handsome? Have you perhaps bought too much into the idea that woman are defined by their physical beauty? Or is that just an instinctual need of women? Some things to think about that may help you work through this.
posted by Dansaman at 9:57 AM on February 22, 2013

The OP never said she needs her husband to say this because she wants him to think she's "objectively" beautiful.

I understand the hangup needing to hear the specific word "beautiful," but I don't care if my significant other thinks I'm objectively beautiful: I want to know he finds me beautiful, even if the rest of the world thinks I look like a goat. I personally think someone telling me I'm "sexy" vs "hot" vs "pretty" vs "attractive" vs "beautiful" all mean extremely different things, even though I know the person telling me doesn't necessarily think so.

So I used to play the video game Animal Crossing a lot, where your character lives in a little village populated with other characters. Each character has a slogan that they use to greet you with. Anyway I made one of the villagers' slogans be "Hey, beautiful." And it was so silly and obviously it was a computer-generated character that I made say that. But every time those words popped up on the screen, I felt a little flutter of pleasure. And I had other girlfriends come in and confirm that they felt the same. And I have a male friend, who is gay so there is no unspoken romantic or sexual stuff between us, and we have a joke where I will gush about how he's a "big strong men, etc" and even though he knows I'm joking and a little bit teasing, he still blushes and loves it. Stupid, right? So in conclusion, yeah it will seem awkward that he is only telling you because you told him to tell you, but it will still probably be great.
posted by thebazilist at 10:11 AM on February 22, 2013 [14 favorites]

Here's a different approach. Just why is it important that you be objectively beautiful?

Is your worth based on your facial features? Should it be?

Are you fearing aging?

Are you for whatever reason worried about your relationship and focusing on beauty as your trump card?

Every one of us, pretty, plain, average, or fireplug ugly has intrinsic value. In my ever so humble opinion, I think you would be better served to develop your relationships with others in other ways rather than basing your worth on beauty. Beauty does not last. What is inside does. And it really is true that what is inside leaks to the outside.

(And maybe your husband won't use the b word because subconsciously or otherwise he thinks you need to unhook that from your selfesteem train. If so, I agree with him.)
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 10:25 AM on February 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

I don't quite understand what is bothering you about this, but here is what I think might be happening.

Other people tell you you are beautiful. This is evidence that you're objectively beautiful.

Your husband tells you he's very attracted to you. He refuses to tell you that you're beautiful.

It seems like, to you, this is like him saying that you're not objectively beautiful: that he thinks you're attractive, but that in his estimation other people wouldn't.

Is that it?
posted by tel3path at 10:58 AM on February 22, 2013

I'm not in the habit of saying things which are trivially true. Telling my wife that she looks great (and she really really does) goes against the grain. I've learned to do it because her feeling of goodness outweighs my feeling awkward. It sounds like he might be coming from a similarly literalist place. Tell him that you're not asking for information, but acknowledgment. And don't be harsh: coming from my point of view, it can be hard to guess that.
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 11:42 AM on February 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

From the OP:
Thank you to everyone who gave thoughtful responses that weren't knee-jerk reactions to my fishing for compliments. I think it's fair to say that I need to be more explicit in stating my needs. Thank you also for the people who've recommended a book or therapy; I understand that that's the next logical step, and it's one I probably will take.

Just to clarify: he validates me in many other ways (thanking me for being a good partner, telling me he loves me for x, y, and z personality-related reasons, etc.), all of which make me feel wonderful and are very meaningful. I know that I'm a great person and a super wife, both because he tells me and because I just know that about myself. And I do the same stuff for him, including telling him how handsome/sexy/hot I find him. But I suppose the fear is that, no, he doesn't find me beautiful, and even though I know he loves me for a huge host of other reasons and would never leave me, that little lack of attraction means we don't have a full/complete love. I understand that what I just wrote sounds slightly unhinged, so yes, therapy. Thanks to everyone, especially those of you who gave personal experiences that were similar to mine.
posted by restless_nomad at 1:10 PM on February 22, 2013

I had this typed up before your update, but I'm still going with this:

When I was quite a bit younger, I'd agonize at my boyfriends to tell me I was beautiful. It was a test of their affection for me, with the unspoken rule that, "If you loved me, you'd think I was ultimately beautiful, and you would tell me all the time. The fact that you don't act that way, proves you don't really love me." Who knows what they really thought, because I was so hung up on whether or not they were willing to recite the precise words.

If that sounds familiar, then I submit that you are also testing your husband's love for you. This is a bad road to go down, and can foul up your relationship. Nobody likes to have to prove themselves like that, especially if they already think of themselves as forthcoming. If he gets "punished" for not saying what you need to hear, the exact way you need to hear it, he very well could become resentful. Because you're implicitly accusing him of lying -- either he's lying about how much he loves you, or he's lying about how he feels about your appearance, or both.

You may be legitimately insecure about your appearance, but your husband has already let you know (in his own way) that he is happy with your appearance. It doesn't make sense to keep pressuring him to elevate his praise to loftier and loftier heights.

Even if he does start telling you that you're beautiful, you're probably not going to be content with it forever. Eventually, you'll probably need him to praise your appearance even more highly. And you're never going to be "sure enough" that he means it, in the exact way that you need him to mean it. It could go from "Why won't he tell me I'm beautiful?" to "How do I know he means it? He didn't start effusively complimenting me on his own. He could just be saying I'm beautiful to make me happy." Or, maybe you'll burn out on beauty compliments, and transfer the angst to something else he doesn't say or do just right. There's always going to be a trapdoor to fall through.

Maybe check out the concept of relationship OCD.
posted by Coatlicue at 1:41 PM on February 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

that little lack of attraction means we don't have a full/complete love. I understand that what I just wrote sounds slightly unhinged, so yes, therapy.

It does sound unhinged, but in a really reasonable way. As in, the premium placed on a woman's beauty is crazy-pants and fucks us all up. So, yes, therapy, but don't be so hard on yourself.

Also, if he doesn't think you're prettier than Angelina Jolie, that doesn't mean that there's a lack of attraction.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 1:47 PM on February 22, 2013

I hope I didn't come off as being super-harsh. It's not like I don't know about all the ways in which beauty is framed as a sort of end-all be-all for us ladies. I died a bit inwardly when someone I dated once said, "well...you're not beautiful, but you're cute, and guys like cute." For a few days I was glum about it and almost broke up with the dude because I felt like, "eh, why bother."

The truth? I'm NOT beautiful. I AM cute. Dudes DO like cute. It just took a while for me to deprogram myself sufficiently, to where I could hear the actual statement instead of just seeing a billion Cosmo covers screaming YOU HAVE FAILED AS A FEMALE. SHAME! SHAME!

This stuff runs deep. In addition to therapy and stating your needs, I recommend a fast from the majority of media. Once I stopped reading ladymags and indulging in TMZ, etc., a lot of those harsh, judgmental inner voices quieted right down.
posted by like_a_friend at 1:57 PM on February 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

To me, and in my relationship, the word "beautiful" really means something far beyond "do I meet arbitrary societal standards of attractiveness?" When I look at my partner, or his daughter, or other family members that I adore, I experience such joy and pleasure in looking at them, which I experience as finding them beautiful, and it is inseparable from my love from them. I don't think my partner is beautiful because he resembles a celebrity or measures up to some metric; he's beautiful because of how warm his eyes are when he smiles at me. And he experiences the same thing - he lights up when he sees me, and finds me beautiful even when I'm tired or sick or worn out and don't remotely look like someone you'd see on a magazine cover.

Maybe I'm misreading, but I feel like this is the experience/affirmation that you're looking for from your husband. Not that you're asking for him to suggest that every person on earth would think that you're "objectively beautiful", but that he enjoys your physical appearance and presence, because he loves you, and you want to be seen through that affectionate, adoring lens. I don't think that it's unreasonable to want that in a relationship. Maybe your husband would be receptive to expressing his emotional reaction to your appearance instead of feeling like he's being asked to evaluate you on an arbitrary scale? Good luck in talking it out with him.
posted by Neely O'Hara at 2:22 PM on February 22, 2013 [6 favorites]

But I suppose the fear is that, no, he doesn't find me beautiful, and even though I know he loves me for a huge host of other reasons and would never leave me, that little lack of attraction means we don't have a full/complete love. I understand that what I just wrote sounds slightly unhinged, so yes, therapy. Thanks to everyone, especially those of you who gave personal experiences that were similar to mine.

Thanks, OP, for the update. I just want to affirm, though, that you do not sound unhinged. For myself (as I detailed above), I could not process what I was feeling in ways except that I wasn't respected or appreciated. I mean, how else could I explain someone not saying some simple words? It must mean that they don't think them, right? Communicating in the way that I was asking for did not come difficult for me, so it was hard to understand why it was difficult for her. Then I'd wonder, am I not doing a good enough job providing, according to her? I work hard, what am I doing wrong?

Therapy, in other words, isn't about being unhinged. It's about understanding yourself and your partner better. In my case, it helped reframe the situation better simply so I could understand. When my wife was eventually able to convey for me that she did respect and appreciate me, but didn't understand herself why why she couldn't say it more often (and as such, this became a point of emotional investigation), that little bit of understanding helped me see that it wasn't about me, but about my wife and our communication together. It gave me patience and an ability to see things through a different lens, and to not personalize it as much.

Perhaps see this as a point of curious investigation in your relationship, rather than one of personal hurt. Because I'd bet a million dollars (especially after what you said about your husband in the follow-up) that he'd rather walk on broken glass than intentionally cause you pain.
posted by SpacemanStix at 3:07 PM on February 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have explicitly asked him in the past, "Do you think I'm beautiful?"

I would mix it up a little and see what response you get.

"Do I look beautiful?", "Am I beautiful?" Is more likely going to get the word you want - "Yes".

"Tell me I look beautiful" will likely result in "you look beautiful".

If that's what you want him to say, you're going to have to be more direct with it.
posted by heyjude at 4:30 PM on February 22, 2013

I know totally what you mean. I get hung up on being called "beautiful" because to me, "beautiful" means the person I love being themselves in all their glory. I mean literally, specifically the way they look-- becomes beautiful to me. When a boyfriend avoids calling me "beautiful," it sounds to me like "you're pretty, but saying beautiful would be lying" or "I definitely get a boner but let's not get carried away." Is this ridiculous? Yes, but what I'm looking for isn't necessarily YES YOU ARE SO OBJECTIVELY BEAUTIFUL YOU COULD BE A PART-TIME MODEL, but yes, you are so beautiful to me because I love your smile and your laugh and your face and your hair and you produce beautiful tingly feelings of love and art in me. Which is something that I feel about the men that I love.

On the other hand, I actually have a super hard time saying the WORD "beautiful," like just the actual word itself. It's a weird word-- when I call a film beautiful, I feel like I have to do it in hushed tones or something. It's a weirdly charged word. Even when I find things beautiful, sometimes beautiful doesn't seem like the right word. It's like calling it pulchritudinous. Doesn't sound like what it means, doesn't feel like what it's supposed to feel like. It's an unusual, non-visceral word.

My current boyfriend didn't call me beautiful for a long time, and I never asked him to, though I kind of secretly wanted it just for the dizzying thrill of love that it kind of implies. I wanted him to be reckless and say immoderate things. I didn't know why he never did. And then one night we were laying in bed together naked and he was holding me and looking at me and said "you're so beautiful" in this tiny voice that made it so clear that he wanted to express the feeling, but like me, felt the word was awkward and insufficient. Whenever something fits too perfectly into the cultural script about love I think people with genuine feelings can get squirrely, because you know, they're not just generally "in love," they're in love with you, and you're not like any other woman who has been called "beautiful" in innumerable love affairs stretching back into the ancient past-- you're you. It's kind of Sonnet 130. He loves you in specific, human ways, not general, contemplating-a-painting-with-formal-criteria ways, and he doesn't want to say your eyes are like the sun because no eyes are actually like the sun, at all.
posted by stoneandstar at 9:07 PM on February 22, 2013 [15 favorites]

If he has problems giving any compliments at all though, he needs to learn how to verbally appreciate more. That's just love languages, plain and simple. It's a learned skill. It didn't come to me naturally, but now I do it all the time, on impulse.

I think it takes a lot of vulnerability to call something "beautiful." It's very sincere and not at all cool, which is actually very shocking when you think about it, since beauty is such an ubiquitous idea. Your boyfriend might be a little trapped and afraid of vulnerability.
posted by stoneandstar at 9:19 PM on February 22, 2013

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