The Look of Love: Staying in Love Through the Physical Changes
Dr. Deb would love to answer your burning relationship questions.
Today’s Advice Highlights
- Should physical standards be a non-negotiable expectation in a committed relationship?
- Is it superficial to be affected by a partner’s change in appearance?
- Dr. Deb brings a much-needed perspective shift into play.
Dear Dr. Deb,
When I first started dating my fiancé, I was head over heels. I was very attracted to her, especially her mind-blowing body. Having sex and being active physically have always been major part of our relationship.
We’ve been together for four years, loving each other and finding reasons to laugh together, even through hard times.
Now I feel like we’re going through our toughest challenge. During the Covid-19 lockdown, things drastically changed with her habits. Like most people who got cooped up at home, she became sedentary and less motivated to exercise.
She gained more than 30 pounds and she’s become really insecure about it. As much as I don’t want to admit it, I don’t feel as attracted to her because of the drastic change in her body. I still think she’s pretty, but I’m not as excited about our sex life as I was before.
I know she feels it, and she’s told me many times that she wants to get in shape again. But I don’t really see her making an effort. She won’t even go on a walk with me.
I love my fiancé, and apart from the physical changes, I appreciate our relationship and how well we get along. It’s just that I can’t help feeling bored and stuck – so much so that I’m starting to notice other attractive women. I know that physical attraction is important, but it seems ridiculous for something as superficial as her weight gain to be the end of our relationship.
I’ve never considered myself to be shallow or superficial guy. I never really thought about how much physical appearance matters to me. But things at home have started to make me question myself, and I hope you can help.
How should I bring this up to my fiancé without hurting her feelings? Should I just try to ignore my feelings and wait for this to blow over?
We live in a society that sets up impossible standards of beauty. So much of the things we see from childhood until we grow up are tied to these ideals that never reflect the reality and the messiness of human bodies that sometimes, whether we like it or not, go through changes.
Add to that the fact that our consumer culture bombards us with the idea that we can just “buy” our way to thinness (and that thinness = beauty and happiness). Our culture definitely has weight problems.
No wonder that even someone as emotionally-attuned as yourself still find yourself expecting from your fiancé the superficial standards of beauty that been programmed into most of us.
Thanks to Sex and the City, there seems to be this expectation that love and the success of modern relationships depend on the amount of sex the couple is having. Never mind that real love, especially in the context of a committed relationship, is not sex and sex is not love.
Is sex important in a relationship? Yes, and there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to how much and even as to what a satisfying, consensual sexual activity would be like. It ultimately depends on the couple’s personal beliefs, physical desires, and the nature of the relationship.
Since sex and intimacy have been an integral part of your relationship with your fiancé, I understand how losing that “lovin’ feeling” would be distressing for you both, and how this change is something that you both need to address.
Talking about losing weight is a highly sensitive topic. But it’s worth having an honest conversation with your fiancé, especially since you’ve been together long enough to know and trust each other. She admits she has gained weight and knows that she needs to do something about it – this is promising.
While it seems that inactivity and poor eating habits were the direct cause of her weight gain, talking to her while offering her a safe space might reveal more. For many people the stress and fear during those uncertain times might have led her to feel safe and protected on the couch or indoors. Not everyone found it easy to go back to “normal” when travelling and going out were allowed again.
Here’s a suggested “script” of what you might say to start the conversation, “I love you and I really want to know how I can support you. It’s not easy to feel motivated about healthy eating and exercise. Maybe we can share ideas about how to do it together. I was thinking we could plan our meals or start a gym membership (or a similar suggestion). What do you think?”
Listen to what she says and how she responds. She may seem defensive at first, but simply listen to her and try to understand how she feels. If you try again and she still can’t seem to make the changes she needs, this might mean she needs more time to process her experience during the lockdown. Remember that your fiancé is a unique individual and things that come easily to you may need a little more time and effort for her.
As much as your fiancé loves you, she cannot lose weight for you, but for herself.
Our bodies and appearances change…. yes, including yours, no matter how active and healthy you are now. We put on weight and lose it, we get pregnant, we get sick. And the inescapable fact facing all of us: we will age and we aging will change the way we look and feel.
My advice for you is to let your love for her carry you. Remember the times you’ve laughed together and overcome difficult moments. This is just one of those times. It will pass.
A final food for thought: how about working on trying to understand why this is such a big problem for you. Societal expectations of beauty don’t need to affect your feelings for her. It’s entirely possible for you to work on developing new attitudes that will allow you to look past the physical changes and find your fiancé attractive for the beautiful person she is.
It will take both of you working together, working on yourselves at the same time, to make it work.