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Should a Spouse's Physical Appearance Matter?

  • Dr. David B. Hawkins The Relationship Doctor
  • 2007 30 Jan
Should a Spouse's Physical Appearance Matter?

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Dear Readers,

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 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:

Dear Dr. David,

The question is this: Should we, as husbands or wives, be concerned about how our mate looks, or should our love be unconditional?

The way the question is posed, the answer would seem obvious. Of course we (husbands) should offer our wives unconditional love. But then does that sort of love become a license or carte blanche for anything goes with appearance?  I think not.  I think the issue is often more complex....with other sub-issues attached.  Is she sick of sex and trying to keep him at distance?  Is there a wrong relationship with food? Are there relational difficulties that she is working out through gaining weight?  And really as a doctor, the underlying question of how this is all affecting the general picture of her health is probably a better place to start.  

But raising all these issues is easy compared to actually addressing them in a substantive manner.    

Dear Dr. David,

I read the letter from the wife who was responding to a man wanting her to lose weight. She cites many different reasons for having weight issues, among which are pregnancy, child nursing years, and menstrual cycles...all of which are very valid reasons for having a desire to take on a lot of nutrition. I feel the problem is not only that people (men and women alike) are taking on a lot of extra nutrition, but they are taking on foods that are loaded with fats, sugars, hydrogenated oils, high-fructose corn syrups, packaged, processed instant meals - and basically empty calories...couple this with the high stress of today's lifestyle resulting in higher than normal levels of cortisol which is the result of overstressed adrenal glands -- which causes the body to begin retaining excess fat in the stomach & hips especially. We are becoming a very overweight society as a whole - men, women and children. 

I believe that the Lord would want men and women alike not to be focusing on  the outside, but the inside of a person -- praying and discovering ways to help each other become healthy - which would include a more natural, nutritious diet & exercise. I believe it's a matter of love -- when people are overweight, they tend to have a poor self image, feel tired all the time, have no energy, feel self conscience and are in danger of heart disease, cancer, diabetes and the like. If you truly love someone, you don't want them to feel bad about themselves or be unhealthy - you want to help them to nurture their bodies so you can grow old together, so you have a life and future together, so you know you're doing all you can to be healthy and happy for the Lord, for yourselves, your children and grandchildren. If couples were to approach weight issues in this light, it would be apparent that the motivation was love, not a fleshly desire to see a perfect '10' in their mate, thus removing the resentment and opposition to be 'told' what to do.

Dear Dr. David,

I am responding to the article re: a complaint from a woman who says it just isn't easy to loose weight due to childbirth and cravings, but I believe that there is so much more involved in her response. You see there can be so many variables involved. It isn't as straightforward as we would like for it to be. There can also be a medical reason as to why weight loss is so difficult, or a genetic disposition to carry more weight if your family background shows this.  Not to mention having to take care of everyone else in the family -- starting with your husband and children and possibly your ageing parents. And if you are a mother who also works outside of the home...well there go your extra hours that you could be using at the gym!  Who then can find the time to take care of themselves when everyone else is put first and we position ourselves last?  It is an uphill battle to say the least!

Dear Dr. David,

I think that men should give women a break.  I agree with the woman. But I have had 4 kids and I wasn't the one who had gained the weight. My hubby was. I gained but have gotten back down to almost my regular size.  To me as long as you're busy and eat right you can lose the weight if you want.  To me neither man nor woman have the right to judge anyone because of their weight.  Some people can't help it, and some can if they have the energy or passion to do it. My hubby is handsome just the way he is. It feels great to lose or to even get in shape and so that is why I choose to be in shape. But men should leave us woman alone. God made us totally different. And God tells us to accept everyone the way they are and, as for me, I do. I think men should have a baby grow in them and see what its like, but that's not how God made them so we have to accept it. 

Dear Dr. David,

I read these advice columns quite often but was prompted to reply when you asked for people's opinion.

First of all, I am not yet married. I personally think that it is not just women that need to watch their weight and look their best for their husband. It's also just as important for the husband to keep fit and in an healthy state. Not only is it biblical ("looking after the temple of God") it is also not your body. From what I see in the Bible and read and hear from marriage sermons/ books etc., when you get married you give your life and body to your spouse and you get theirs.

I also believe that 'usually' the shape your body stays in is a reflection of the love and how well your relationship/ marriage is going. If the husband treats his wife as a princess and makes her feel like a princess, the wife will look after her body as she feels loved and special and the husband will have a fit wife. Men are visually minded, it's the way we are wired and it's healthy to be attracted to your wife.

Dear Dr. David,

In response to your question about the appearance of our spouse. We should definitely love a spouse unconditionally, BUT there are health risks involved when individuals (men and women alike) allow their bodies get too far out of control. I don't mean only overweight. An individual can be thin and be unhealthy because of their poor diet and/or lack of exercise. An individual can also be too thin and be controlling their "too thin" body in some very unhealthy ways (anorexia or bulimia).  I think it's important that we be concerned about our spouse's health, but a few extra pounds throughout our lives together should not be cause for alarm - love them "unconditionally."  Weight does not determine the depth of a loving relationship!

Originally published in 2007.

Dr. David Hawkins is the director of the Marriage Recover Center where he counsels couples in distress. He is the author of over 30 books, including Dealing With the CrazyMakers in Your Life, 90 Days to a Fantastic Marriage, and Saying It So He'll Listen. Dr. Hawkins grew up in the beautiful Pacific Northwest and lives with his wife on the South Puget Sound where he enjoys sailing, biking, and skiing. He has active practices in two Washington cities.

Also, visit Dr. David Hawkins