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.
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