We often truly want to believe that we love our spouse because of who they are. We love their personality, their integrity, or the way that they make us laugh. But if we are being honest, most of us would have to admit that one of the first things that attracted us to our spouse was the way that they look. Sure, most of us don’t insist on someone who looks like a model or movie star. But, very few people end up married to someone who they can not find attractive. Your spouse may not look like the person you imagined when you were much younger (at least mine doesn’t) but most of us come to love the way our spouse looks. So what happens when those looks change? And should you feel guilty if this matters to you?
A wife might sheepishly explain: “I feel like such a superficial jerk. But lately, I’ve been very bothered by my husband’s appearance. And none of it is his fault. He’s had to go on medications due to a medical condition. And this has made him gain weight. And it gives him a puffy appearance. The great irony of this is that I’m no great beauty myself. I used to be very insecure because I figured people always thought we were mismatched. My husband was so handsome and I was just average looking. Because of this, I felt like I had this huge catch. I felt so lucky. And now my husband isn’t that handsome man anymore. Don’t get me wrong. He isn’t ugly or unattractive. In fact, now we’re probably much more evenly matched, which you would think would make me more comfortable. But no, I worry about it. I find myself shopping for clothing that will make my husband look more attractive. When I gave him some of these clothes, he asked if anything was wrong with his old clothes, and he seemed hurt. The thing is, I’m not normally someone who cares that much about looks. I certainly am not preoccupied with my own. And a person’s personality and integrity is normally much more important to me. I am so disappointed in myself for being this shallow. Why is his appearance so important to me? And how can I stop this?”
I think you’re being a bit too hard on yourself. I actually get a lot of correspondence from people who are considering a separation or divorce simply because they are not attracted to their spouse anymore. You are not even approaching that. You just notice a change. And although you are bothered by it, you do not appear motivated to act on it.
It is human nature to be drawn to things (and people) that we find attractive. So, when that attraction wanes or changes, it’s natural to wonder what this means for our marriage. It is also just a fact of life that none of us are going to look the way that we did when our spouse first met us. Every one ages. Every one changes. Some of us age better than others. But we hope that our spouse sees what is within us in addition to what is on the outside.
I can only tell you my opinion. My take on this has always been that it’s fine to expect your spouse to make an effort. I think that we should all present our best selves to the world. I work out to stay fit and I take care with my appearance as best as I can based on what is realistic considering what I have to work with. I would hope that my spouse would do the same. At the same time, I am never going to look like Angelina Jolie. I am a woman of a certain age and it is unrealistic to expect me to look like anything but that. I draw the line at injecting things in my face and having unrealistic expectations. There are things that you just can’t help. And I think, at least for me, that truly is the difference. If there are things about their appearance that your spouse can not help – then there is really no good that can come of trying to change that or holding that unlucky fact against them.
A change in appearance due to medication is quite different than a change due to a love of donuts or an aversion to working out. I think it’s fine to do the best you can with what you have – and that’s probably why you turned to new clothing.
As to why this matters so much to you, I think that part of it is that perception that you got the better end of the deal because you saw your husband as so handsome, while you felt that you were more average. (You may well have been selling yourself short.) And you may also think that his appearance is a reflection on you and your own worth. But you probably know that for most people, the attraction typically changes over time. Physical attraction is only part of it. You become attracted to the person inside – that you know better than anyone else. You appreciate your history and how much you have been through together. You appreciate the support and understanding your spouse has given you.
To me, these things are much more important than what you see on the outside. You already know this or this change would not trouble and confuse you so much. Perhaps as your husband becomes more used to the medication, the changes will taper off. But in the meantime, I think that it will help if you place your focus on the inside, on the support, and on those things that have not changed – perhaps his smile, his hands, his broad shoulders. I suspect that not everything has changed. And I also suspect that it will get better. This is new. And an illness brings on stress. There’s nothing wrong with trying to maximize with what you have to work with, but at the same time, you don’t want to hurt your husband – who is already going through a trying time. It’s better to know that you are a loving, united couple than a couple who looks great, but who doesn’t have that connection.