Jenny's husband has put on 30kg since they met, and she can't help but feel repulsed by his new body.
Well this is awkward. So much so, I can barely even raise it with my closest girlfriends – let alone write it down now. I’m embarrassed and ashamed. Here’s the thing: I don’t want to have sex with my husband because he’s become really fat. I wish I didn’t think or feel that way, but I do.
My husband – let’s call him James – is a lovely guy
He’s kind and works hard. He loves our kids. However, since we got married, he’s put on at least 30kg. Perhaps even more (when he rarely gets on the scales, he’s too mortified to let me see).
These days, it’s a struggle for him to bend down and tie his shoelaces. He sleeps all the time and is an emotional eater. If he has a stressful day at work, he’ll eat an entire tub of ice-cream. Even on a good day, he’ll eat two or three serves of dinner. We’re not big people, so that’s a lot of food.
Sometimes in the evening, I glance over and see him sitting on the couch and am repulsed at his size. His belly is massive.
Don’t think I haven’t hated myself for having this reaction
I have. One of the hard things about this is that I like to think of myself as a non-judgemental person. As a rule, I take other people as they are. I’m a good listener and am happy to hear about other people’s life experiences and ideas. Yet why can’t I accept my husband as he currently is?
By acknowledging small improvements in behaviour you make it easier for big improvements to follow.
After having my kids, I did put on a bit of weight too. James never judged me for it or criticised my body at all. He even supported me emotionally and mentally when I changed my eating and exercise habits in order to lose that weight again.
'I hate that I'm feeling this way'. Image: iStock.
By the same token, he was never a skinny guy
Even when I first met him, he was a little overweight. Obviously back then I found him cute and fell in love with how warm and caring he was. Who cares about a few extra kilos, right? He was really great to talk to. And unlike so many of the jerks I dated, he never played games. He always texted and called me back. He made his intentions clear – and it was refreshing.
These days though when he tries to hug me, I dread the thought it might lead to sex.
At his current size, getting down and dirty is downright uncomfortable
There are only a few positions he can manage so it’s always the same. When he cuddles me in bed, his huge belly pushes into my back. It’s heavy and off putting. Even spooning isn’t the joy it once was.
One the one hand, a mantra plays in my mind. Accept people how they are. It’s just a body. Everyone has their own “stuff”. Who he is internally is far more important than his weight.
Kiss and hug your spouse in front of the kids. Your marriage is the only example your child has of what an intimate relationship looks, feels, and sounds like. So it's your job to set a great standard.
That’s the politically correct version of my self-talk.
Then there’s the ugly truth that sexual attraction is a major facet of any intimate relationship.
Bluntly, if I met him at this size I never would have been attracted to him
So can we, as individuals, really expect to still feel the same desire when and if our partner’s appearance radically changes?
'I met him at this size I never would have been attracted to him.' Image: iStock.
Obviously, I’ve tried to figure this out with James. I’ve tried being kind and talking it through. I’ve been upset. I’ve been gentle. I’ve been harsh. I’ve expressed my genuine fear that he might die early and not see his kids grow up if he continues like this. None of these things have worked.
In my quest to find a solutions, I searched online (as we all do these days). Mostly what I found was articles like this one giving me tips on how to have sex as a plus-sized person. But that’s not really my issue. My issue is desire.
In the end, I turned to Relationship Therapist and Clinical Sexologist, Nina Booysen to see what advice she might have for me (and for us). When I first related my story to Nina – and explained I was going public with it – her first thought was: "Whoah! She is going to be crucified for this!"
But then Nina went on to reassure me that in fact, I’m "saying what many men and women are thinking and feeling".
Don't try to fix everything. Give young kids a chance to find their own solutions. When you lovingly acknowledge a child's minor frustrations without immediately rushing in to save her, you teach her self-reliance and resilience.
"This is something that exists in relationships but often it does not get addressed due the seriousness of having to address it," she says, "At times we focus on a particular issue in order to be able rationalise avoiding sex, such as weight, smell changes, conflict, lack of emotional intimacy and more. I'm not saying these are not valid reasons to have a desire crisis, but it doesn't have to be terminal."
According to Nina, in every long-term relationship, desire is eventually going to be an issue. "Research has shown that women lose desire for their partners sooner than men. It's thought that this is to ensure they move on and continue to diversify the gene pool," she explains.
'I turned to a relationship therapist for help'. Image: iStock.
So what can we actually do about it?
ike any good sex therapist, Nina has a number of solutions for me (and for you too if you’re also in this tricky situation!).
- Isolate the emotions that this issue provokes for you such as fear, loss of respect, concern, disgust and self-judgement. Separate them from your sexual experiences. None of those emotions invoke sexy or erotic thoughts and lead to your avoidant behaviour. Keep it separate and alternatively raise your level of empathy and curiosity (without judgement) to understand why he is emotionally eating.
- Try steer away from expecting your partner to be the provider of the perfect storm that results in your erotic desire and sexual pleasure. His physique wasn't the only thing that has turned you on in the past, as you say he has always carried a few kilos. What else turned you on?
- Have sex because you want pleasure and orgasmic release. Use your erotic library (memories of past pleasurable experiences, sex scenes and fantasies) to help your brain get it in the game. Change your thoughts from "I don't want to" to "I love him". From "he is not a turn on" to "what turns me on". The discussions you have had may be contributing to the issue now, he has to make the changes because he wants to. I would suggest an assessment for anxiety and depression.
Say "I love you" whenever you feel it, even if it's 743 times a day. You simply can not spoil a child with too many mushy words of affection and too many smooches. Not possible.
Wish me luck!
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