How Do I Encourage My Wife to Dress Better?

February 12th, 2019 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 20 comments

Hi Rabbi Daniel and Susan,

I need some advice and assistance regarding my wife and her appearance.

When we first dated and were married, she cared much more about looking nice around me. In the past few years or so, she seems to care little about her appearance. She many times hasn’t showered in the morning, doesn’t fix her hair, and wears clothes that are too big, too old, or clashing prints, frumpy, etc.

However, when she has an appointment, church, work (part-time), or we go out to eat, she will take more care for her appearance. It is night and day. I usually look presentable and my clothes fit and coordinate.  I take care of myself, exercise, and strive to keep attractive to her.

The other day she mentioned that she would like if I would compliment her more on her appearance, or tell her she’s beautiful, and inside I was perplexed – it appears she doesn’t want to do the work and just wants to look, well, literally like a slob or college roommate.

I sense she also may have features of depression. I feel like she doesn’t like her own self, and is not driven to improve herself. We are both in our 40’s and have a child in elementary school.

This is challenging for me, as I do love her, but I definitely notice other women while at work, running errands, out to eat, at church, etc. – and I long for my own wife to care about herself (and me) to, well, look more feminine and attractive, to care about it.

I have casually mentioned / hinted at improving her appearance in the past, but it was met with denial, attack, criticism, etc.

All that to basically ask,

1) how do I communicate this to her, that perhaps when I am home can she look nice/care about her appearance for me (which would fan the flames of love and passion), and

2) I was thinking of asking her to find a ‘feminine life coach’, perhaps one or two neighbor women, to help her with her style, appearance, mannerisms, self-care, etc.

Please help, we are Christians, and we do love each other, it is just sort of flat in our relationship and I hardly notice her. I feel at some level that each of us is responsible to care for ourself and to do what we can to attract our mate. Thank you and God bless you, your family and ministry.

Thomas

Dear Thomas,

Thank you for asking your excruciating question with such candor.  An exquisite balance must exist in all marriages between continually courting one’s spouse on one hand and feeling at home, relaxed and comfortable with that spouse on the other. As you note, we’re all going to encounter those of the opposite sex who are dressed up and put together when they appear in public. It is important always to remember that, out there in public, we don’t see the exhausted, complaining, unprofessional, very human side of those very people.  Even 1950s television wife Donna Reed wasn’t always in pearls, makeup, and heels. 

We want to address one jarring note in your letter: You write that you think your wife might be depressed.  While not fans of amateur diagnoses especially in the mental health area, we urge you to encourage her to go for a complete physical.  Maybe this is something you both could/should do together.  Being run down or off-kilter physically can deplete the energy needed to care for oneself. A good physician should detect signs of depression as well. If there is any underlying spiritual/mental/emotional dimension to your wife’s behavior, you both need to know that.

Assuming that everything is okay and there is no serious complication, it certainly sounds like your wife is unhappy and doesn’t feel attractive.  She asked you to tell her she is beautiful, which sounds like she tried to open up a conversation but you kept your response internal instead of taking the opportunity to discuss the state of your marriage. That, along with hinting that she should improve her appearance was probably quite crushing to her.

As you can tell, we believe that the problem you describe has underlying causes.  It is clearly not that she just doesn’t know how to dress or that she forgot how to do her hair and makeup.  If the underlying cause is not medical, then it is likely the marriage.

You sound like a good guy, but we wonder if you are looking from too narrow a perspective.  How often do you and your wife share a fun activity? Do you laugh together frequently? Do you surprise her with little gifts or notes that let her know you think of her? Do you compliment her when she is dressed to go out? Do you let her know when she is wearing a hairstyle or outfit that you find particularly attractive? Or are your eyes too focused on only one negative area?

I (Susan) would be mortified if my husband recruited other women to talk to me about my appearance. Please drop that idea although making sure that your wife has the time to participate in a weekly activity with a healthy group of women is a great idea. You mention part-time work and a child. Does your wife know that you want her to have time to pursue her own interests and the financial means to purchase makeup and clothes?

I (Rabbi Daniel) query whether you are bearing the bulk of the income earning burden for the family?  Has your moral leadership of your family been compromised in any way?  Is your wife’s conduct a silent way of reproaching you for what she perceives as past or current pain? 

Could there be anything in either of your histories prior to your marriage that could be relevant to the challenges you’re now living through?  These are a few of the talking points that should arise if you and your wife went out for coffee and for what the diplomats call, “full and frank discussions.” Casually dropping hints isn’t what is needed. Thoughtful, loving, respectful and serious conversation is.

Women’s bodies change after having children and as they age. Your wife may have a whole scenario in her mind that brands her as unattractive to you. For example, maybe you went through a period where you were distracted at work and she interpreted it as a rejection of her. It sounds like she knows that you,“…hardly notice her,” and this pains her. She does dress up to go out. Oversized, frumpy clothing can be a defense mechanism against your disregard. This reinforces our sense that there is probably an underlying marriage and relationship issue.

Thomas, we want to make clear that we think it terribly important that husbands and wives make an effort to be attractive to each other. This includes hygiene and dress, basic courtesy, putting down electronics during conversation and meals, sharing enjoyable activities and many other details. We aren’t belittling your pain at your wife’s neglect of her appearance. However, we think it stems from a deeper source and that you and she need to recover the relationship you used to have. This will result in her dressing more carefully rather than mistakenly thinking that if only she would dress more carefully you would recover the relationship. The goal isn’t to “change her,” but rather to understand what you both need to do to recapture romance and affection.

Perhaps a weekend marriage seminar would be a good place to start.

Marriage is worth working for,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

Tags: ,

20 comments

Bob Morin says:

It’s been my personal experience in a similar situation that the Spirit wanted me to love my wife like he loves me, agape style. I have been doing this for several years. While I am unfulfilled as a husband in certain ways, my wife is much happier at home and around me. (BTW, the Spirit moves me to say nice things, give a kiss or a caress, etc.) I get more than what I need from God.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Dear Bob–
Thanks for writing. When you write about ‘agape style’, I am assuming you are describing a love different from ‘eros’ love. This is further hinted at by your delicate formulation about being unfulfilled ‘in certain ways.’ Each marriage arrives at its working systems through a gradual and remarkable system of organic development and each marriage is different from others. You don’t describe how long you were married with a more conventional approach to marital intimacy before you adopted the agape love approach. Imagine you were approached for advice by an idealistic couple contemplating marriage but they tell you that their love for one another is ‘agape’ style love and they are firmly committed to never consummating their marriage physically. However, they love one another and would like you to officiate at their marriage. What would you say? I know that I would not be eager to participate and in fact, I would discourage the marriage as it, from the outset, contradicts God’s Biblical blueprint for marriage–and they shall be one flesh. Still, as I say, over time, couples evolve their marriage protocols and the miracle is that so many different styles of marriage somehow work. You sound like rather a remarkable man.
Which makes us especially grateful to you for writing
Cordially
RDL

Vince says:

You responded very well.Great insight. It does sound like there’s more to the story. My wife and I just celebrated our 46 anniversary, I would do it all over again. We laugh,talk,sing and do most everything together. Even in her oversize clothes she is beautiful. You are right, marriage is worth working for. Married at 18, I hit a homerun with my sweetheart.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Yes, Vince,
You did hit a home run. Did you ever! 46 years says you both have been growing together and you have successfully created that remarkable God-given entity we call a marriage. Thanks for your uplifting letter,
Cordially
RDL

Ruth says:

This is a touchy subject. I know what it’s like to feel untractive to my husband who is 13 years older than I am and has compared me to a single wild neighbor who is 15 years younger than I am. What a battle to stay sane and keep it together. I pray a lot with the unity prayer line..and by God’s mercy we are still together after 37 years of marriage and may illnesses. I praise God for the wisdom He gives you to share with the rest of us. Ruth

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Dear Ruth–
Well, 37 years is an enviable record and, regardless of the challenges you’ve faced, you deserve great credit. May you be blessed with many more years in good health
Cordially
RDL

Rich Flink says:

It broke my heart to read that Thomas’s wife had to ask for compliments from her husband! There exists something which I call a “self-fulling prophecy,” which can work in both a positive and in a negative way. In my opinion, if Thomas were to compliment his wife’s appearance on those occasions when he mentioned that she looked nice he might start noticing that she would look good more often.

Susan Lapin says:

Rich, we thought along the same lines and also winced at a woman asking for a compliment. We hope Thomas and his wife find mentors to guide them to better communication.

Kevin says:

While I agree with the statement about him complimenting the things he likes, I didn’t wince at her asking for more of what she desired. There is nothing wrong with telling your spouse that you would appreciate more of something, even compliments. Sometimes we think things, but don’t say them out loud or we take one another for granted. I told my wife recently that I’d like her to look at my face when we are talking rather than multi-tasking or looking at her phone. She appreciated knowing that and did just that. She’s told me before she would like me to notice certain things like her hair or clothes and compliment her on them. I then became more observant and did just that. Saying that you’d like your spouse to compliment you or recognize you more is nothing to wince at is it? We can all become a little complacent. I thought her expressing her desires to him was helpful.

Susan Lapin says:

Kevin, I understood Rich to say he winced in pain at her needing to plead with her husband to recognize her, not at the idea of sharing her thoughts. You are correct that we are not mind-readers and husbands and wives need to explain what is in their hearts and minds. Doing so would help correct a lot of communication errors.

Beez says:

I’m so glad you advised this husband NOT to consult his female neighbors! If he had a stranger-marriage counselor, that would be better than someone within their sphere of acquaintances. I’m sorry but I can’t help but facepalm that he even thought of involving the neighbors. So that he can understand – how would he like his wife to go ask the male neighbors to talk to him about his lacking bedroom techniques? Not only would consulting the opposite sex be embarassing for the spouse being talked about but also highly inappropriate and could lead to infidelity between the duscuss-ers [sic]. Not to mention the obvious – the couples issues being made forefront on the neighborhood gossip agenda.

Susan Lapin says:

Beez, you are suggesting a great rule of thumb for people to use when thinking of what they might do regarding another person. Turn it around and ask yourself how you would feel if it was done to you.

Jacqueline Coutanche says:

I would like to say Thank you Rabbi Daniel and to your lovely wife Susan for you wisdom..this is most definitely a awkward subject! The important thing in any relationship you will agree is communication! Especially Marriage….I read your advice you gave Thomas and going to see the Doctor together is the best advice. It sounds to me that this precious Lady maybe hormonal in the perimenopausal stage? This can have effect on moods and self worth! I speak from experience I went through this myself. Touch is very important tenderness works wonders as well as lot’s of hugs. I am a Christian and what I find alarming was mentioning Agape..in a marriage context? from one of the comments..The four loves by C S Lewis are always good to read to get clarity on the Greek loves.
God is love and sometimes unintentionally we let pride and selfishness get in the way of loving one another the way God loves us warts and all!!!. Hope I don’t come across too bold! as I don’t want to offend anyone. God bless. Jackie

Susan Lapin says:

I don’t think you come across as bold, Jackie, as much as wise. You certainly aren’t offensive, though there is nothing that anyone can do to keep all people from taking offense, particularly in our day where being prickly and persnickety is elevated as a (losing) way of life.

Thomas says:

Thank you for comments thus far. I sought to reach out to more brains and hearts with Godly wisdom, since men and women are different. We enjoy the RDL podcast and have purchased multiple audio CD packages over time.

Complimenting my wife more is a good idea. I get busy and forget. Actually I did it a few times yesterday and the day before. I will keep practicing.

I DO appreciate the recommendation to not ask neighbor women to help, that is why I asked. However, frankly, some people are good with style naturally, others not. Rather than complain or blame, a growth mindset is to continually improve and be unafraid to ask for advice to better yourself.

I already did ask a woman friend of hers some time ago, she also suggested to compliment her when she looks nicer, her hair is done, etc. At times my wife has said she doesn’t care what other people think about her appearance. But I care.

Yes there are hormonal fluctuations and mood changes at play too, and I believe this is a big component. She does follow with her physician. Regarding time, we do have a date night each week which helps us connect, we have done this for several years and plan to continue.

I appreciate the insights and will add compliments. People are often quick to bash others but wisdom, grace, insight can really help. I do pray regularly for wisdom, grace, and love to be a better husband, father, worker, etc. I wouldn’t have asked for help if everything was wonderful and there were rainbows and unicorns dancing around.

Susan Lapin says:

Thank you for adding these words, Thomas.

Deborah says:

It is quite possible that Thomas’ wife’s primary love language is affirmation. So fulfilling that need can help her to feel more like she is loved. Not every ones love language is the same.

Susan Lapin says:

That’s a good point, Deborah. I hope talking to each other, preferably guided by a good marriage coach, will help them understand each other better.

Ellen says:

This is a subject close to my heart. I found your response to the question as well as to the many comments very encouraging and affirming. Thank you. My own husband is always quick with the criticism and extremely stingy with compliments (in all areas of your marriage but especially by wardrobe). He constantly gives me articles on “how to dress”, how to wear my hair, etc. and he even pulled all of my clothes out of my closet one day and sorted them into piles on the bed with notes on top – “should never wear” and “these clothes look good”. In the middle was an article entitled How to Develop a Sense of Fashion. This was not well received! It’s true I’m more relaxed at home but still clean and neat – thanks for affirming that it’s okay to be a little more relaxed at home. I used to buy lingerie and initiate Eros love but after one too many criticisms of my lingerie I have stopped initiating. I often wonder if my husband finds more value in how I look than in who I am! I know my Love Language is primarily affirmation and my husband knows this as well but instead of trying to speak this language of love to me he makes fun of this need – seeing no value in it. The criticism is not limited to my appearance and as a result we have had many hours with a marriage counselor and it has helped somewhat. Over 41 years of marriage our relationship has evolved into a workable pattern – I have learned to be satisfied with affirmation from friends, family, co-workers and occasionally strangers (both men and women) – but honestly the person I’d like to hear this from the most is my husband. It is my hope that my words help Thomas to understand his wife just a little better.

Susan Lapin says:

Ellen, bless you for your empathy for Thomas’ wife coming from a place of your own pain. I hope that other areas of life bring you great joy and admire your ability to “make the best” of what must have been years of struggling.

We would love to hear your thoughts. Please leave a comment.

Comments will be posted after approval by our moderator, so you will not see your comment immediately.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.This is a required field!

You may use these HTML tags and attributes:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Search Questions

Yes! I would like to receive FREE weekly teachings

Sign Up Now!

Do you love reading our Ask the Rabbi column? Now, get 101 favorite questions and answers in one delightful book.

Dear Rabbi and Susan: 101 Real Life ‘Ask the Rabbi’ Questions

Learn More | Add to Cart

X