How to get past my husband's lack of attraction
February 20, 2016 5:51 AM   Subscribe

My husband and I have been together for 16 years, married for 10. We started dating at almost 20. We generally have a good marriage, good communication, and love each other. However, several times over the past few years, my husband has told me that he is not attracted to my body. He still thinks my face is pretty and we still have sex about once a week, 2x a month if we're busy, and it's good. I'm having trouble getting past the fact that he feels this way, though. I'm angry and resentful. How do I move past this?

More explanation: I almost always initiate, which makes me feel awkward and needy. This has been the case since the second year of our relationship. We have two kids, who are 4 and almost 8. I started to gain weight about 7 years into our relationship, and gained weight with each pregnancy that I haven't lost, and also some from being on an anti-depressant. He also gained, as much as I, but has lost a good portion of it. It never affected my attraction to him. When we were younger, I was told by men and women that I was beautiful and very sexy, but I never felt that my husband saw it. His standard of beauty was athletic and very thin, and even though I was a size 4, I was soft and curvy. I think he eventually moved past that ideal, but my confidence was shaken from the comparison.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (24 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

First you need to figure out what you need, then you must communicate your need to your husband. Example: In my marriage the sex was rarely very good. My view on this was: "The sex is not very good and it never will be for basic incompatibility reasons, but I love everything else about this relationship so it's ok and I'm going to stay in it". My wife's view was: "The sex is not very good and it is a serious problem that we must try to fix". These views were incompatible.

We never communicated much at all about this, we just continued hurting each other about initiating sex and other sex topics for years. Eventually my wife had a lengthy affair that was devastating to the marriage and broke a lot of other things about the marriage that *were* requirements for me. If we had communicated about our needs, we might have come to some sort of arrangement and salvaged a relationship that had lasted for half our lives and had been basically good for us. But we were unable to learn to communicate until it was far too late.

Your question asks how you can move past your husband's lack of attraction to your body. But it doesn't sound like that's what you want. It's reasonable for you to want your husband to be attracted to your body again, and not to have to move past his lack of attraction. Maybe that's what you need, maybe it isn't. But you must clarify to yourself, perhaps in therapy, your needs. Then you must communicate your needs, perhaps in therapy, to your husband. Then you can work together on accommodating each of your needs. The path that you are on will not arrive there.
posted by Kwine at 6:20 AM on February 20, 2016 [34 favorites]

However, several times over the past few years, my husband has told me that he is not attracted to my body.

I find myself wondering about how this is communicated to you. Also, how he feels about knowing that you feel a constant rejection and that he never initiates. What is his responsibility here? Is he being knowingly hurtful in these interactions, or just distant/indifferent, or painfully honest? Do you talk about it? Were these just offhand mentions or heart-to-heart conversations? Would you consider losing weight on purpose to improve your sex life, or do you feel it should not matter (which is fine), or do you feel like it wouldn't matter to him anyway because he has a 'type'?

I agree that therapy, for you, might be a good start, but maybe for you both, so you can communicate better about this (if indeed you aren't directly communicating. It's hard to tell).
posted by Miko at 7:04 AM on February 20, 2016 [12 favorites]

Sometimes, as business-like as it sounds, scheduling sex on the calendar is the way to have an in-between, mutual compromise amount of sex. What I think would be nice in this scenario is if when your husband is turning down your offer in the moment, instead of mentioning your shape, he hugs you and says "Let's plan on doing this Saturday." A gentle and encouraging "no" is better than "no" with a bonus insult.

I'm a little ticked that he's stated his lack of attraction several times. Once was enough. Multiple times seems cruelly redundant. But I have to admit I have no power to change his behavior. Anyway, you may be able to suggest to him a kinder way to signal "no interest" when that occurs. Also, are there other things he can do to make you feel appreciated? Can you affirm and validate yourself, even with something as cheesy as a page-a-day calendar of uplifting thoughts?
posted by puddledork at 7:20 AM on February 20, 2016 [8 favorites]

I'm having trouble wrapping my head around why he needs to tell you this at all. And I'm wondering how he'll deal with the inevitable changes of your face and body as you age.

You are framing this as if the only problem is that you're angry and resentful about it, when your feelings are a completely natural reaction to what he's saying. I'm trying not to jump to the conclusion that he's a cruel and immature person, but what he's saying to you is cruel and immature. You say you love him and generally have a good marriage, but you're expected (or you're expecting yourself) to not only accept insults, but to not have your feelings hurt by them.

If you want to stay married to this man, I think that couples counseling is in order. If he won't go, then you need to go to therapy by yourself. You are not going to become more conventionally attractive with age. If he can't see the beauty of who you are as a complete human being, this a problem that isn't going to get better by itself.
posted by FencingGal at 7:21 AM on February 20, 2016 [70 favorites]

Very similar questions discussed in a recent Dear Sugar podcast called "The Weight of Love" which I thought was really enlightening. It's always great to want your spouse to be in good health and feel comfortable in his/her own skin, but he is really missing the mark here if that's what he's trying to communicate. You sound wonderful!
posted by belau at 7:26 AM on February 20, 2016 [6 favorites]

See, me, I would be really turned off by an insensitive jerk, which is what your husband was for telling you that nonsense. You have kids and you need to make it work but, don't put this all on you. He needs to grow up a little. You have the right to be angry with him for making you feel anything less than absolutely desirable in the body that created his two children. Get mad, express your anger, and then let it go. Everyone says stupid things from time to time.

Sexual frustration can cause women to gain weight. It changes our hormones and our emotions, both of which affect our eating. If he mentions your weight again, share this little fact with him, in a gentle way, and ask him if he wants to work for the solution. And then smile sweetly.
posted by myselfasme at 7:32 AM on February 20, 2016 [6 favorites]

This isn't something you need to move past, it's something you both need to deal with via therapy. His repeated insults—and that's what they are—are a sign of contempt, the most deadly thing for a relationship. If he won't go to couples counseling that's a bad sign, but you should see someone by yourself to get some perspective on this.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 7:52 AM on February 20, 2016 [23 favorites]

This has been a dynamic for fifteen years, not a recent change. You've noticed a shift in the past year with overt statements, and I'd bet more is going on - the transition of your kids from toddlerhood to school, shifts in your own work lives etc. You can start seeing a couple therapist by yourself if he refuses to go, and get some help seeing the bigger picture and figuring out what you can change and decide, and what is in his area to change and decide.

Moving past this isn't just accepting and letting go of it. That can be done healthily and with love, but it means looking deeply and honestly at the painful truth first and then choosing to let go of it. Just shoving it down out of sight means the pain festers longer and grows.

In the end, if this is something you have to do alone because your husband won't change or contribute to helping resolve this issue, then your marriage as a partnership is broken and you have a whole other path to figure out. Otherwise, your question is how do you start a conversation about changing a relationship dynamic that hurts you with someone who isn't responding, and it's mostly by loudly and repeatedly saying that it hurts and going to a therapist and making their responding a deal breaker.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 8:44 AM on February 20, 2016 [5 favorites]

I was in a relationship similar to this. While he never said he wasn't attracted to me, he would almost never initiate sex, and when we did have sex, it was very often not good. The underlying issue here is that you want to feel desired, and it sounds like you haven't felt that way for 15 years (!)

I would recommend you find a couples therapist--I found that I responded very well to one that worked according to the attachment theory, but you'll have to figure that out for yourself. Your husband's behavior is hurtful to you--maybe he intends it to be, maybe he doesn't--but if he loves you, he should want to figure out a solution, whatever that solution is.
posted by Automocar at 9:14 AM on February 20, 2016 [3 favorites]

several times over the past few years, my husband has told me that he is not attracted to my body.

Has he specifically cited your weight as the reason for this? I agree that it is totally unreasonable to expect that your partner will not gain some weight as they age. However, in a healthy long term relationship I think it is also each person's responsibility to make some effort at maintaining a level of attractiveness if they want their partner to remain attracted to them.

Because as the sex is still good, it sounds like you both do still love and respect each other. Is it possible that once a year he has gotten up the gall to try to talk to you about losing weight? How did he lose weight in this time period - was he perhaps trying to get you both on board?

I mean this with NO disrespect intended toward you. I'm just thinking that your husband's words might not be coming from a hateful place.
posted by pintapicasso at 10:39 AM on February 20, 2016 [6 favorites]

if your husband is trying to encourage you to lose weight by saying he's not attracted to you, not only is he cruel, he lacks imagination. you can get over this by finding a partner who will remain attracted to you as you change and age. this isn't asking too much from a relationship.
posted by nadawi at 11:12 AM on February 20, 2016 [7 favorites]

Does he literally say he's not attracted to your body? Tell him he can't say that to you. You are a whole lot more than your body and his respect for you needs to override any thoughts of insulting your figure. Nthing you should tell him he needs to initiate sex or scheduling sex in a way that works for you. And not saying this stuff.
posted by Kalmya at 11:20 AM on February 20, 2016

I find lots of people pretty or nice to look at. It doesn't mean I want to have sex with them.

A lot of elements go into physical attraction. Some seem to be mutable (for example, sometimes more exposure (sexualized and not) to phenotypes can increase attraction to those types, or having to do a ton of emotional labor for someone can decrease attraction to him, or feeling truly shitty about yourself can decrease sexual attraction to anybody). Some seem to be pretty immutable.

I think it's pretty easy for people (and maybe especially for young men who face a social expectation to be attracted to and express attraction for any and every woman who meets conventional beauty standards) to get confused between
a. having a strong sex drive, enjoying sexual stimulation, and finding someone nice to look at, and
b. being viscerally physically attracted to someone (the kind of attraction that is mostly unfazed by normal human physical changes)

(Also people might not be the most reliable narrators for why they are attracted to or not attracted to a particular person - it's really not always obvious! - and body size is pretty convenient go-to reason/excuse in our culture).

It sounds like your husband isn't really attracted to you. That must feel devastating (though it does NOT reflect on your desirability!) And that he has no idea how to deal with that in a non-destructive way.

It sounds like there is love between you, and also kids. To me, that should be more than enough motivation for him to be actively looking for ways to address this between you. Therapy seems like a good place for him to start out, to explore whether there are any elements of his attraction towards you that are mutable and to learn how to deal with this in a way that is not destructive to you.

He may not be able to 'fix' his lack of attraction to you, even if he can and does learn to be much, much kinder about it. Then you would have to decide for yourself whether, in the context of your particular situation, at this particular time, that is a deal-breaker for your marriage. Many of us would strongly support you in thinking that it is a fair deal-breaker, even with kids. But especially with kids, it is important to move thoughtfully and carefully, to *take care of yourself* through the process so that you are acting deliberately and not reacting impulsively (though humanly) to pain, and to give the two of you the best chance of being wonderful co-parents, whatever happens in the short or long term with your marriage.
posted by Salamandrous at 11:30 AM on February 20, 2016 [6 favorites]

If my partner said that to me, I am sure I would unconsciously balk at losing weight. Part of me would resist doing anything to whittle myself down for him with a big psychic middle finger. Because he's been so unkind, it might be hard not to see doing what he wants as capitulating to him about control over your body, which hell no.

This might or might not be part of what's going on with you. But if it is, the irony here is that if perhaps you do ever want to lose weight for yourself, you might find it hard to do so because if you're in reaction mode.
It is almost impossible not to care what your husband says and feels about your body. But perhaps -- in addition to calling him out on this -- one place to start is to become a friend to your own body in a more conscious way, more in touch with yourself physically, not because anyone finds you sexy or not but as a way to foreground your own self-love and to de-emphasize the power of his insensitive and immature comments.
posted by flourpot at 11:38 AM on February 20, 2016 [21 favorites]

several times over the past few years, my husband has told me that he is not attracted to my body. He still thinks my face is pretty

Oh, well that's really big of him.

OK. I'm assuming that he has literally said to you "I am not attracted to your body," rather than you just drawing that conclusion from the situation. If that is the case, then I think you should be less concerned about moving past your husband's lack of attraction and more concerned that your husband thought it was OK to tell you he wasn't attracted to your body. That's a pretty shitty thing to say to a spouse.

But even if my assumption is wrong, and he's not saying this explicitly to you, then it's pretty crappy if you always have to initiate sex. How could that not make you feel sad? I think you and your husband need to have an honest conversation about this because you feeling "angry and resentful" isn't sustainable for you or your marriage.

I think Kwine's advice is really good.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:14 PM on February 20, 2016

When we were younger, I was told by men and women that I was beautiful and very sexy, but I never felt that my husband saw it. His standard of beauty was athletic and very thin, and even though I was a size 4,

I feel badly that you've never had sex with someone who just loved your body, and was fiercely attracted to it without ambivalence. Your husband seems like he lacks basic empathy. I'm sure he'd be pissed if you said that to him.

I was in a relationship for a long time, and after we broke up, numerous friends thought there was an attractiveness mismatch between us. In the relationship, my ex thought I was beautiful and always told me so but it was like a fact when he said it. He was not a romantic guy, pretty lazy and awkward about being the manly guy who makes women feel beautiful. But It turns out he was jealous and hurt when others ribbed him about what I was doing with a guy like him. He felt bad about his looks and he was also looking older very quickly. And he had self esteem issues that were his own deal.

After that relationship, I started dating again, got tons of attention, and my new boyfriends made me feel gorgeous. I wish that for you because it feels incredible when you're with a guy who likes sex and thinks you are gorgeous and he's lucky and he respects you sincerely. Those feelings brought me back to myself.

Is there any chance your husband not attracted to women? Are you the only sexual experience he ever had?

I've never been big on the idea of open relationships, but I think there are a lot of great guys who would be attracted to you and also be sweet and caring towards you, and would probably love to have sex with you. Maybe pitch that to your husband? Because I feel like you're being forced into celibacy that is going to make your life and health worse.
posted by discopolo at 1:39 PM on February 20, 2016 [13 favorites]

I think your anger and resentment are signs that something is wrong with your relationship, and I think you should listen to those emotions and try to figure out what you need to do and/or what he would need to do, in order for you to feel better, rather than just trying to get past them and ignore what your body is telling you.

I have learned that resentment in particular is often a sign that you are letting someone trample all over a boundary that is actually important to you or that you are trying to hold yourself up as an empty vessel without any needs so that you don't inconvenience other people who are important to you.
posted by colfax at 4:57 PM on February 20, 2016 [10 favorites]

You don't have to settle for spending the rest of your life partnered to someone who tells you that you're not sexy in their eyes. This problem he has with your body, which has been completely created by him and him alone, is one that he must deal with internally or with a therapist. It's definitely not your problem to fix, let alone validate. He needs to decide what's more important: his boner or your dignity. It sounds like he's choosing the former. There is a good, sexy person out there for you who not only initiates sex at a rate you find suitable, but would be appalled by your husband's audacity to inform you that you're unattractive.
posted by theraflu at 8:30 PM on February 20, 2016

You say "We generally have a good marriage, good communication, and love each other." What does he do that is loving? Does he spend time with you, care about your interests, your health? Does it bother him that your sexual needs are going unmet? Shouldn't it bother him, if he loves you?

Is there enough in this marriage for you that giving up on being wanted, on a good sex life, is worth it?

Those are the questions that came to my mind when I read your Ask. I don't know the answers.

I know that, for me, married about as long as you, the thought of sleeping with a man who had told me he found me unattractive would be devastating and would probably end the relationship. Because sex and attraction and kindness and connection are the reasons I wanted to get married. Without those things, it would feel like a dead relationship. I would much rather be single.

And if it matters, I'm not thin. Never have been. He is, though not as much as he used to be. He finds me attractive and always has, and tells me so. Thinness is neither a guarantee of being loved nor a requirement for love to exist. And attraction is not something you can narrow down to appearance; it's a matter of connecting with another person, loving who and what they are, not just what their body happens to look like at that point in time.

But I'm not you, and I don't know anything about why you married or what you get from this relationship, so all I can tell you is that your question made me hurt for you. I agree that counseling for you, and for him if he'll join you, is necessary, because it's clear that being starved of love and connection and sex in your marriage is hurting you. I think it would hurt most people. You seem to be asking for a way to overlook or ignore or forget that need, but that's not how needs work, especially ones as deep and basic as the desire to be wanted and love by the person you are partnered with.
posted by emjaybee at 8:42 PM on February 20, 2016 [10 favorites]

I think many answers here are kind of weird in that if this were a new relationship, then of course being told you are not attractive would be sort of a reason to move on. But it has been my perception that many couples who are married for more than a few years (and a few kids), being attracted to each other is less bodily related and more of a mind-soul thing. Once the novelty wears off and you've smelled each other's farts and morning breath and seen each other get fat then I think it is reasonable to expect that maybe staying attracted to each other becomes a priority behind being in love with each other.

I do wonder what he hoped to accomplish by telling you about this, though. Was he just being honest? Is he maybe trying to tell you he wishes to see you make more of an effort at looking better for him? Was his own weight loss about health or does he care about looking better? You don't mention these things but you might have the answer, and there might be the answer to your "how do I move past this?" question. Ultimately the best way to deal with this might be to talk to him yourself, either alone or within the context of counseling, so that both of you can openly say what you expect of your relationship in issues that matter to you.
posted by CrazyLemonade at 8:59 PM on February 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

A different angle: is your husband doing well medically? Thyroid OK, testosterone OK? Depression? Stuff to make sure is OK.
posted by persona au gratin at 1:43 AM on February 21, 2016

Your marriage is in serious trouble. Your husband says very hurtful things to you, and you're owning your feelings about this as YOUR problem. The fuck?

As FencingGal points out, we change as we age. You gave birth to his children and your body changed. That's what happens. (And fuck Kim Kardasian for being on the cover of People with, "How I got my body back"!) He should love all of you because your body produced his babies, your body warms and comforts him, your body gets out of bed every day and tends to what needs tending. The body is the vessel of your soul, not an object for him to stick his dick into.

Men who impose this kind of body shame in their partners are immature, selfish and flat out ignorant. These are the thoughts that get dudes thinking about always having a young, nubile partner, and cycling through women as they hit an age where he finds them unattractive.

I'd head into counseling because you're sexually unhappy and he's...who knows, but seriously screwed up is one big thing he might want to work on.

Yeah, I get that sometimes it's a bait and switch, they marry a size 6 and she gains weight. He likes what he likes. But at the end of the day, he needs to make peace with how you are today, not you making peace with the fact that he's mean to you.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:23 AM on February 21, 2016 [16 favorites]

I want to point out a gender angle on this that I haven't seen noted. Often members of a couple have different sex drives. In popular media it's always the woman who doesn't feel like it and the man who wants to have sex all the time, but some men do just have lower sex drives. This can cause a lot of the prolems you're talking about - always having to initiate, not feeling desired, feeling constantly rejected, etc. But we don't often think of it as a thing that happens in this particular direction, because of media telling us that men always are ready to have sex with anyone attractive.

It may even be, a bit, that he's looking for a reason why he isn't wanting sex in the moment, and settling on your body at a semi-subconscious level as "I must just not be attracted to her", fishing for some "acceptable" reason to give you in explanation for his lack of ability/desire. It can still be a cruel and immature thing, of course - but something that comes out of poor communication / lack of self-knowledge / fear of himself being inadequate. That's where counseling might help.

And then all the things that apply to any couple with different sex drives start to come in to play - can he initiate because he wants to make you happy? Can he initiate something sexual that's more one-way and about satisfying you, without requiring him to be turned on the same way? Etc. Your needs here are also important, both 'sexual' and emotional needs to feel loved/cared for.
posted by Lady Li at 12:13 AM on February 22, 2016

That was a pretty breath-takingly unkind thing for him to (repeatedly) say to you, especially since it is unlikely that you will EVER be able to "correct" it. If you were a size 4 and still too curvy for him then this is an absolutely unwinnable situation. And it sounds like he even told you back when you were a size 4 that he will be MAGNANIMOUS enough to OVERLOOK your curves in order to bless you with his presence. (yes, I am overstating, but seriously...)

How kind of him.

Seriously, I'm pretty upset for you. I can see no reason for him saying this apart for him to secure and maintain a relationship "upper-hand". Saying "I don't find you attractive, but I guess I'll tough it out anyway" forever puts you in a position of risk and insecurity. It will forever make you feel insecure over your appearance, and it will forever make you feel insecure in your relationship. I mean, jesus, who knows when he might decide to no longer overlook his lack of attraction to you and just leave, right? And as your body continues to change as you age (in perfectly normal, natural, but inevitable ways) how could you NOT worry that it may all get to be too much for him to be able to overlook? His saying this (repeatedly) is manipulative and cruel.

Couples therapy is a must. And solo therapy for you would probably be beneficial.

Side note: I'm a plus size woman, have been since the dawn of time, and I had a man try that "I'm not in to big girls, but you have a pretty face, so I'll overlook that" bullshit on me. Its like he was taking pity on me or doing me a favour. I kicked his mother fucking ass to the curb faster than you could say "Kiss my fat ass". It is fine that I wasn't his cup of tea, but I am NOT existing in a relationship where right from the off I've basically been told they are doing me a "favour" by overlooking my body to be with me. I deserved more, and you deserve more now. You have ever right to be with someone who finds you attractive, who isn't with you in spite of your appearance.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 5:48 AM on February 23, 2016 [5 favorites]

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