A man’s wife isn’t OK with him seeing her naked. What can be done to help her feel comfortable and increase their intimacy?
Editor’s Note: August McLaughlin is our weekly relationships advice columnist. She’s here to answer questions and offer guidance on the tough challenges we face in our intimate relationships. Readers can submit questions to [email protected]. Not all questions will be published. The opinions expressed in this column do not constitute professional advice. The Good Men Project assumes no responsibility or liability whatsoever for any actions taken by, or reactions that ensue from, anyone following the recommendations in the answers.
My wife and I have been married for two years, together four. I adore her, and really have no complaints about our marriage, except for one thing: she’s completely uncomfortable with me seeing her naked. There’s no one I’d rather look at or be with, honestly. But she clams up whenever we get intimate, unless it’s completely dark. Then, when I put my hands places she considers “fat,” she moves it away. When I try to talk to her about it, she tells me she’s had poor body image since she was a kid—surely because of her weight-obsessed parents. I’m not sure what to do about that.
How can I help her feel as beautiful as I find her in the bedroom? I want it for both of us, but especially for her. I know you have experience with these issues, and am hoping you can help.
First off, thank you for caring so much about your wife’s well-being. My heart goes out to you both. It may seem as though her body image issues only arise in the bedroom, but most likely, they color her entire life.
I do have experience with these issues, personal and professional, and there’s one thing I know for sure: they can be managed and even overcome—if the person is willing. She probably longs to escape the emotional imprisonment and savor sex and life with you more fully. Considering how deep-rooted her insecurities run, however, she may find them oddly comforting; they’ve become her normal.
Complex, I know. But there’s hope.
I’ll never forget the day my mom sat me down, well into my recovery from anorexia, and said, “It’s time to find joy.” I’d thought I had everyone fooled, but she saw through my “I’m totally fine!”—forced-smile facades. Knowing that she and my dad longed for my happiness and noticed my lack fueled immeasurable recovery. Another helpful comment came from my then modeling agent, who told me he didn’t care what I did or how I looked; he cherished who I was. (Notice how, in both cases, nothing was said about my appearance. Body image issues are seldom as superficial as they seem.)
Gently express your concerns to your wife, but don’t limit the topic to the bedroom. Gratifying sex should evolve from intimacy in your lives. Within a committed relationship, sex isn’t compartmentalized; this isn’t a series of casual one-night-stands. Let her know that you value her joy. Her soul. Her life.
Meanwhile, provide a primo example. Cultivate body positivity throughout your lives by avoiding these toxic influences:
Dieting and other restrictive “lifestyle plans”
People who place high value on aesthetics
Saying anything negative about appearance—your own and others’
Praising anyone’s weight loss
Weighing yourself perpetually
Exercising for aesthetics, versus health and energy
When you make love, respect what she finds most comfortable, knowing her shame has nothing to do with you and that any boundaries she sets for the two of you could well be temporary. Speaking of which, shame around sexuality is a huge contributor to poor body image, and vice versa, for women. Find ways to address both.
What did she learn about sex as a kid? I’ve asked hundreds of women this question, and the vast majority say, essentially, “nothing,” “that it’s bad,” or “that it’s a guy thing.” These beliefs underly countless sexual barriers. Tactfully start conversations when you’re nowhere near getting down and heavy. You may be surprised by how eagerly or readily she shares. She will, when she’s ready.
Lastly, don’t be afraid to seek counseling, as individuals or as a couple—especially if she exhibits poor body image complications, such as disordered eating or depression. The significant other relationship is the most important in our lives and well worth every viable effort.
You can’t cure your wife’s body image challenges, but you can love her through them. I know of little more powerful than that.
Cheering for you,