She may be struggling with body issues without you realizing it. Here’s how to be aware and help her.
If you’re a man in a relationship with a woman who is struggling with food and body-image issues, you can either be a part of the problem or be part of the solution. There is no neutral when it comes to the issue of your partner’s body. I want to help you be part of the solution.
To be clear from the get-go, I’m a woman who spent decades hating my body, struggling with the latest diet, and wishing I was something I wasn’t.
Now I’m a Health Coach and Psychology of Eating Coach with 25 years’ experience helping women reclaim their body, and feel good from the inside out. I’ve also been with the same man–my husband–for 20 years.
And let me tell you, he’s been a powerful part of my healing from my body shame and hatred. You can be that positive force for your mate.
I’m not saying you can cure or fix her body image issues. No one can “fix” anyone else. What I am saying, is that you can be a healing salve to her pain of always wishing her body was different. You can be the safe space for her to try out the counter-cultural approach to actually loving herself, just as she is.
Before I get into five very specific strategies that will help, you support the woman you love with the most important relationship in her life… herself. I want to shine a light on how her body shame and self-criticism may be showing up in your lives, and how toxic it is to your intimacy.
This is how my food and body issues showed up and impacted my relationship… I would look in the mirror pick my body apart and ask my husband tricky “land-mine” questions like:
- “Does this make me look fat?”
- “Do you think I’ve gained weight?”
While we were making love I would think:
- “I hope it’s dark enough that he doesn’t see my fat.”
I would strategically remove his hands from any areas that I deemed unacceptable–most particularly, my belly.
These questions, thoughts, and actions kept an invisible wall between us and reduced our intimacy, because when a woman doesn’t love her body…
- It’s hard for her to let you completely love her body.
- It’s hard for her to be completely sexually free.
- It’s hard for her to allow herself to experience pleasure in many aspects of her life.
If your mate is feeling bad about herself, your connection–both emotional and physical–is going to suffer from her not loving her body.
These five ways-of-being will help you be a healing force for your partner. This is exactly what my husband did (lucky me!).
1. Love her. As she is–not five (or 50) pounds lighter, not if she was more “in-shape.” AS IS!
2. Model a non-critical voice. She’s already got a critical inner voice like you can’t even imagine going full tilt in her head. Please be opposite, and be specific. ”You are glowing,” or “I love your hair,” or “I love your beautiful shape.” These types of comments will go a long way to combating the nit-picking mean-mirror-voice that is often internally tearing her to shreds. You are creating the possibility of a new conversation in her head.
3. Adore her body in all the different ways it shows up. Women’s bodies change so much over the course of a lifetime. Think about pregnancy, stressful times of life, menopause, and aging. Love her in each stage. Please be the voice saying, “You are gorgeous EXACTLY as you are now…and now…and now!”
4. Be the voice of relaxation. Be counter-cultural, and relax around the whole issue of food and weight, instead of adding more tension to an already ramped up experience. Relaxation helps a woman’s nervous system (and a man’s too). This promotes a healthy body (and body image!).
5. Don’t idealize her when she’s looking slim or trim. If you’re too rah-rah when she happens to be on the slim or fit end of things, then she’s wondering if you didn’t love her body when she was not the societal ideal. She’ll also start stressing about how she’s going to stay this “perfect” way. And, as above, women’s bodies change. They just do. The operative phrase here is “I’m so glad you are feeling so good in your body, that’s what’s most important. And you always look gorgeous to me–no matter what!”
These strategies will help you navigate the complex territory of a woman’s relationship with her body. But, I do want to reiterate that while you can’t cure your partner, you can create a space in which she feels safe enough to do the inner work she needs to heal her relationship with her food and body.
Please be supportive of her getting support from other women and coaches. One of the heartbreaking things I see every day is how women feel so alone with their body shame and pain. Let her know there is a community of women out there reclaiming their bodies, and that you’re part of the chorus cheering them on!
Photo: Flickr/ Garry Wilmore